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Enhancing Teaching Through Peer Classroom Objectives

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Even the "best and brightest" must be given systematic training in two essential skills: conducting the observation in a systematic, research-oriented manner and providing effective feedback within the broad context of sound pedagogical practices.

The posting below gives some recommendations for effective peer classroom observation programs >From Chapter Twelve: Enhancing Teaching Through Peer Classroom Objectives by Barbara J. Millis and Barbara B. Kaplan in: Improving College Teaching by Peter Seldin, Lubin School of Business, Pace University. Pleasantville, NY. Copyright (c) 1995 by Anker Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved. ISBN 1-882982-08-8. Anker Publishing Company, Inc. 176 Ballville Road. P.O. Box 249. Bolton, MA 01740-0249. []. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


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Factors Contributing to Successful Peer Assessment Programs


From UMUC's experience with this ten-year, constantly evolving Peer Visit Program and from what is known about effective faculty development and administrative procedures, several recommendations may help other institutions develop effective peer classroom observation programs. Although focused on formative observations, many of the recommendations apply equally well to observations intended for summative purposes. They are deliberately broad. Thus, they may be relevant both on the macro-level, such as when a peer classroom observation program is established institution-wide, and on the micro-level, such as when two individuals agree to reciprocally visit one another's classes. In practice, many classroom observation programs are initiated at the departmental level. Lucas (1990), for example, recommends that chairs "create a climate of trust and support so that visiting one another's classrooms is acceptable and non-threatening" (p. 68). Significantly, Massey, Wilger,! and Colbeck's (1994) ongoing research on departmental conditions suggest that supportive departments are relatively open to peer review of classes. These are the recommendations:

1. Classroom observations must be conducted in an atmosphere of trust and collegiality within the context of teaching enhancement. A positive climate of support, reasoned dialogue, and mutual professional goals underlie successful programs.

2. Teaching enhancement must be valued: even if the rewards remain intrinsic, the faculty involved must feel that there is a "pay-off" for their considerable investments in teaching improvement. Ideally, the institutional and departmental reward structures will encourage effective teaching, despite cynics who point out that words of commitment are less powerful than the realities of promotion and tenure.

3. Faculty must "buy into" the value of classroom observations to enhance their teaching. They must be convinced that the process itself works and that classroom observations offer rich, reflective, qualitative experiences. Good practice-supported by systematic, yet creative administration-can offer these assurances.

a. Responsive, responsible administrators-buoyed by conscientious support staff-must be selected to provide the infrastructure and motivation to insure that the program thrives.

b. Individual arrangements or any broader announcements or literature regarding classroom observations must make crystal clear the objectives. Full disclosure is essential: there should be no hidden agendas.

c. Effective faculty leaders are essential. The "best and the brightest" should be involved-individuals with the respect of campus colleagues who are committed to teaching but who also excel in research and service.

d. Even the "best and brightest" must be given systematic training in two essential skills: conducting the observation in a systematic, research-oriented manner and providing effective feedback within the broad context of sound pedagogical practices. Workshops offer concrete, interactive ways to accomplish this training, but less formal methods can also be effective, such as one-on-one coaching or serious review of prepared materials such as the Peer Visit Packet used at UMUC.

e. Faculty must be coached to use a three-stage consultation model that includes pre- and post-observation discussions and to conduct at least two classroom visits to get a broader perspective and to provide feedback on agreed-upon-changes.

f. Faculty must be encouraged to agree on a viable instrument to focus the observations. Many faculty prefer the type of focused narrative used at UMUC because it offers a holistic view of classroom activities and climate without presupposing any particular pedagogical approach, such as lecture.

g. All observations must be placed in the broader context of teaching enhancement. They should ideally be part of an extended review of classroom performance which takes into account other available data such as course materials, particularly the syllabi and exams; classroom research data; and student evaluations collected over time. (See the chapter by Fink, this volume.)

These recommendations emphasize key factors in the successful adaptation of a peer observation program. Faculty will be more motivated to participate if visits are conducted using principles of good practice in a climate of trust and mutual respect where teaching enhancement is valued.