Distance Peer Observation

George W Bush holding binoculars


Axel Bohmann

One of the greatest resources you can have as a teacher is other teachers’ experience, suggestions, and comments. At the DWRL we are lucky enough to have Blogging Pedagogy, Lesson Plans, and other platforms that help us benefit from each other’s great work. I use these regularly, but there is one aspect of teacher collaboration that so far I have not been able to incorporate in my practice as much as I would like to: immediate feedback and conversations about my (and others’) teaching as it unfolds in real-time classroom interaction (as opposed to feedback on artifacts derived from these interactions, such as lesson plan entries).

Attending the Center for Teaching and Learning’s Graduate Teaching Scholars seminar a couple of semesters back has given me the opportunity to both observe and be observed by fellow assistant instructors, and this has given me some of the most valuable insights about my own classroom presence that I’ve gotten so far. Now, the obvious downside is that it is relatively time-consuming to organize peer observations. I still try to do at least one every semester, but there are some activities that only fully make sense in the context of an entire unit’s trajectory. This semester, by accident I’ve come across a way to facilitate ‘distance peer observation’ over a longer period of time without imposing too much effort on anyone involved.

My supervisor kindly agreed to observe one of my class sessions and in preparation I added him to the course wiki. The initial purpose was purely for him to be able to have a look at the syllabus before coming to class. But as the semester went on, I would get occasional messages from him about new assignment prompts I’d uploaded or comments left on the front page. These would often develop into conversations about specific instructional goals, about future iterations of an exercise, etc. I’ve come to greatly appreciate the light-hearted, informal nature of these conversations and the feeling they give me of someone else being interested in what is happening in my classroom.

So, in future I will make sure to add one or two colleagues to my class websites and give them a chance to stay in the loop about what is happening in my class (and hopefully to share theirs as well). Especially with classes like RHE 306 or 309 that follow similar structures, I can see the benefits working both ways. I get inspiration from the exercises you design and you get feedback that will help you get the most out of these exercises. And it’s fairly non-committal: if I have a set of 7-page papers to grade this week, perhaps I won’t have a chance to look at my colleagues’ course sites, and that’s fine. But once these papers are done I’ll start a new unit and will be grateful for some inspiration on how to tweak my teaching.

I’m not suggesting this is a substitute for in-the-flesh peer observations, but it could work well to supplement them and to keep conversations going beyond the individual class session. And most of us have some sort of course website already, so the effort to get it going should be minimal.


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