Peer observation of teaching in the online environment: an action research approach
Dr Deborah Swinglehurst, University College London
Jill Russell, UCL
Professor Trisha Greenhalgh, UCL
The major achievements were as follows:
- Enthusiastic engagement of 28 teachers in two parallel online focus groups. Teachers were drawn from 12 different departments throughout London and other parts of the UK and represented many different disciplines including education, medicine, veterinary science, public policy and others. 26 of these teachers were active in contributing a total of 130 postings resulting in a rich and scholarly exchange. The focus groups allowed us to:
- map experience of peer observation
- highlight the potential and challenges of implementing peer observation in online settings
- identify the tensions inherent in the practice of peer observation
- identify some of the characteristics of “good” online teaching
- discuss alternative models of “peer observation” based on collaborative sense-making, which informed the design and implementation of a programme of peer observation within our MSc in International Primary Health Care.
- Establishment of an online Special Interest Group, comprising 12 of the original focus group members, plus a further five members. This allowed further discussion, exchange of resources, and dissemination of our preliminary analysis of our focus groups and our own Unit’s experience of implementing peer observation.
- Implementation of “Peer-to-peer Reflection on Pedagogical Practice” (PROPP) meetings amongst tutors of the MSc in International Primary Health Care. These meetings were based on the principles of an action learning set. Individual tutors brought to the group an example of their teaching (for example: feedback they had prepared for a student, a transcript of a virtual seminar, or marks they had awarded for a student’s work) and used this as a basis for discussion, with other tutors supporting reflection and challenging assumptions. Four face-to-face PROPP meetings and one asynchronous online “meeting” were held. These were successful in opening up discussion about teaching practices and using real (though not real time) examples of tutoring as a basis for reflection and action. We made several changes to our teaching activities as a result of these meetings (for example – introduction of a new cover sheet for students to submit with their assignments, in a format which encourages students to be more actively involved in their feedback). Although we already had a culture of peer review of “work in progress” within our team, the PROPP meetings have allowed us to “close the learning loop” by encouraging us to reflect back on completed teaching episodes with a focus on pedagogy.
In our PROPP meetings we have explored the following:
- How do we help our students to write critically? (using a transcript of a virtual seminar)
- How do we assess our students? (using two student assignments)
- Exploring principles of good feedback practice (using an example of tutor feedback)
- Marking assignments (blind marking of an assignment by all tutors and discussion about the processes involved)
- Development and ongoing collaboration with the University of East Anglia Action Research Group. This brought together a multidisciplinary group of eight action researchers from different departments to share learning on this research approach.
- Development of a suggested approach to building a “portfolio of evidence” which might be submitted to the QAA within an institutional audit report as a way of demonstrating an effective PROPP programme. It is anticipated that this may be useful to the Centre for Distance Education and to course designers and teachers who are considering incorporating a programme such as PROPP into online and distance education courses.