call to be open or reflections on week 1 #lthejan13 @pgcap

LTHEJan13 week 1

I smiled when I read this comment. I asked my new cohort to share with us how they felt at the beginning of the session, at the beginning of the PGCAP. The majority of students seem to be positive and are looking forward to this chapter in their life as a teacher in HE. But there were also some critical voices who are not convinced yet that this course will be useful for them. That is ok. I don’t mind as long as we all have an open mind and use the PGCAP as an opportunity to explore, experiment and discover but also to connect with colleagues from other disciplines. I smiled because of the self-realisation that my teachers are now students again while also being teachers and it also linked nicely with what I was trying to achieve in this session overall but also through the Lego model making activity, to look at themselves as learners. No point talking about teaching if we forget who we are as learners and our learners. It will be fascinating to follow how this dualism is influencing their thinking, reflections and actions but also if it also has transformative powers for who they are as a teacher.

LTHEJan13 week 1

one of our Lego models

My approach is playful and I try to do things differently and do different things, as I have heard some time ago Prof. Ranald Mcdonald saying in one of his workshops. We are all busy already and adding new stuff on top of what we do already just won’t work. We need to be open, work smarter, stop doing things that just don’t work and make time and space for new practices to emerge! We teachers are learners first. If we model learning and share our passion for learning and our subject with our students only then will we be able to connect with and enthuse them.

This session was an introducion into the PGCAP and the LTHE module. Was there a lot transmission of programme and module information going on? I think so! This is why I find it so challenging as I am not really a information transmitter. Information overload? We talk about flipping the classroom and making information available n advance of a session… isn’t this though just transmitting information in a different way, time and place? I really struggle with this approach. We talk a lot about self-directed and self-organised learning and if this means that the learner is in the driving seat, what does this mean for the teacher? The induction session is going to be changed radically for the next cohort. Some ideas I have at the moment:

LTHEJan13 week 1

loved the noisy conversations!

Programme handbook and module guide with resources will be available during orientation (they were now as well). A webinar will be organised to answer questions linked to the course and then during induction we will be able to get to know each other and immerse ourselves into the collaborative pedagogies through experiencing these. I think this could work better… It will be challenging if people don’t engage with the resources and don’t participate in the webinar… what would I do then??? Expectations need to be shared and working practices agreed from the very beginning. We only get out of it what we put into it! This applies to students and teachers!

Anything else I should be thinking about? Perhaps my LTHEJan13 students have some ideas? Feel free to share, ok? Thanks.

the natural powers of storytelling or reflections on week 8 #lthesep12 @pgcap

Can’t believe we reached the end of week 8 already! Where did this semester go? Did and do we have (too much) fun? This was officially the last time my #lthesep12 class got together face-to-face as next week is fully online and in the following week the Professional Discussions take place. Missing my students already… at least we will have the opportunity to come together again for our Christmas picnic on the 12th of December at 12pm. Yeh!!!

This is our 5th LTHE cohort and I can’t stop thinking how different things are with each cohort. Despite the fact that there is a common thread running through, with a new set of students each session feels completely different.  Of course the resources have been enriched and changed, the activities and supporting materials refined too, some removed and new ones added as well. I do want to keep this offer fresh and not just repeat stuff that I have used before. I guess, I have also matured (?) in facilitating this module and feel ok to pick ‘n’ mix more organically and intuitively bits out of my toolkit and re-mix and re-purpose activities and resources that I have created over the last few years. I love looking back at my reflections from previous cohorts and also remind myself of what we experienced together. Looking at the photographs we have been taken and stored in our Flickr album is a great help to re-visualise specific moments. I am so pleased I started capturing these moments from the very beginning and we have now such a rich photo album of the module and our experiences.

This week we had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in another curriculum design approach. While last week we experienced storytelling, this week we adopted a Problem-Based Learning approach to investigate assessment and feedback. As many of my students didn’t have first hand experience of PBL, they were asked to access some of the resources in advance of the session and we also looked at the basics at the beginning of the session with one of my students who is an experienced PBL practitioner.

LTHESep12 week8 assessment and feedback via PBL

Jo in action showing a PBL trigger she is using in her practice

I was observed during the assessment and feedback session with my last cohort by our External Examiner and this is why this particular session was more vivid in my memory perhaps than any other. So, when I started redesigning this session for my current cohort, I wanted to make sure that I would apply the lessons learnt from that peer observation. The key point then was “less is more” throuh decluttering the session. I found that really challenging but I wanted to give it a go. If you would like to read and access all the resources (including video clips from the observed session as well as the open feedback conversation that followed) linked to the peer observation, click here.

Ok, back to now 😉 While I was designing this session, I had some extra tools in my bag which I would only use if I spotted a real opportunity and always keeping in mind the main task! This was really hard as I had extra goodies which I wanted to share with my students. I had to burry my excitement and be patient and wait to see if there was an opportunity to bring them out of the bag… so to speak.

1. How did I feel?

Very pleased that my students keep coming to the sessions, first of all, despite the fact that there are plenty resources online and activities that could keep them going on their own… but would they? What is the added bonus of coming together as a class? What do my students think?

Very pleased to see my students bonding and having conversations in advance of the session. Seeing them smiley and positive and keen to get started is really motivating. I love to surprise my students and try and keep my offer fresh and do different things together that make them think and hopefully act too. This is I think the only and most important thing I can achieve. I can’t change anybody and I don’t want to! But if something I say or do, makes my student think and re-think about themselves, their students and their practice this is fantastic. If this thought then extend to deeper reflection, exploration and experimentation, which I have seen happening, it is pure magic!

LTHESep12 week8 assessment and feedback via PBL

ready to go! Supporting PBL resources and devices

So, I felt positive but also wanted to make sure that I keep on track and focused on what I wanted my students to learn this week. It wasn’t an easy task since we didn’t only look at assessment and feedback but also we were trying to do this via PBL. Were my plans too ambitious? No. We need to be challenging and we need to challenge ourselves!

I also felt extremely proud of my students, all of them and how they embraced this session. First of all I loved their openness and honesty about last week’s session. It was useful for me to hear different voices about last week’s session and how perhaps some felt that they didn’t get much out of it (I would add yet, as I believe that it will click sooner or later, the proof if this also started coming out during this week’s session). We do need to be brave to ask our students and accept that some of the stuff we are doing or trying to do with them feel a bit strange or pointless. These more critical voices will help us refine our approaches further. It helped me in this way and while in the past, I probably felt hurt, I have now changed and really do see the benefits of all honest feedback as I would like to improve my sessions and maximise what my students get out of them. So thank you for being so honest my dear students 😉

LTHESep12 week8 assessment and feedback via PBL

visualising reflections on last week’s session

2. What did I learn?

Decluttering is good! The session made me think: do we too often over-stimulate our students? Or is this not possible? In the world of mass-distructions, are we all effective filterers? Can we ignore distructions? Bits that get in the way and hinder us from staying focused and on task? But what would be wrong if we suddenly change direction? What if the big learning opportunities are actually created by some of these distractions that we can’t resist? Not sure if all that makes sense here and I didn’t really plan to write about it but my fingers are hitting the keyboard and I guess I am thinking about these things as well as I am reflecting on cluttering and decluttering. Before Simon observed me last time I ran this session (even running sounds horrible but I am going to leave it!) I never thought that my sessions are cluttered. Maybe I would characterise them full or varied or rich but not cluttered. Cluttered has a negatve aftertaste and maybe that is why I still remember his words so strongly and I think this is a good thing because he did make me look at my sessions in a different light and re-think what I am doing, how I am doing it and most importantly why.

We do need to trust our students and this is something I have discovered a while ago but the idea resurfed this week. We need to trust them that they do want to learn and give them the time and space to do so. I think this happened despite the fact that some might have felt that they didn’t have enough time this week. Too much time can also be bad and the more time we get the less some of us might do, so productively doesn’t really increase with the time available. What we need is focused time on activities and I think we got that.

LTHESep12 week8 assessment and feedback via PBL

my thinking classroom

The PBL groups worked well together and everybody contributed to the task (I made some observations regarding how the chairs operated within the PBL groups which correspond with previous similar situations and evidence to me that PBL as a one off might not be the most effective way to build more generic skills but I suppose, there is an opportunity to take some of the PBL roles out and use them in other collaborative learning activities that will enable students to develop a variety of skills. I think there is an opportunity there for me to do this a bit more in future sessions!!!) and sticking the instructions to the tables this time, did work better than last time. Also the roles where there and the simplified FISh model developed in collaboration with Lars Uhlin worked better than more complex and more widely used PBL models. Structure and scaffolding of learning is important but I do think that too much complicated structures turn learners into robots and this is not something I would like to encourage. Definitely not!

I loved how my students in all 4 PBL groups, and then the two supergroups we formed to share the findings with each other, decided to use storytelling as a way to do this. I didn’t influence them or made any suggestion. Was this a conscious decision (based on last week’s approach) or did this happen naturally? As we humans love stories anyway? I would love to find out. Especially as we immersed ourselves into storytelling with and about students experiences at uni… I am pleased I recorded both and share them with you here. They are both wonderfully creative with powerful messages and I would also love to find out what my students’ students would say watching these. Could any of you share these with your students and let me know their reactions?

3. What would I do differently?

Overall, I am pleased with what we achieved during this session. Mixing PBL and storytelling, the second, thanks to my students ;), to investigate assessment and feedback practices in HE worked really well. I am pleased I decided to declutter the session, use FISh, the simplified PBL model but it did feel strange that we didn’t make a proper feedback sandwich, with proper bread, lettuce and the rest (but the metaphorical feedback sandwich was discovered by one of the PBL groups with a little help from the Sandwich fairy 😉 I also didn’t share the magic white sauce story with my students, which is a shame, I think…

So, what would I do differently?

LTHESep12 week8 assessment and feedback via PBL

We asked students studying at Salford: Why do you need to be assessed? Why do you need feedback? Their responses made my students think!

  • It would have been useful to have a set of resources within the classroom, a mini resources-bank or mobile library with books and journal articles around assessment and feedback beyond the digital resources in the classroom.
  • I could also invite students to participate in this session and perhaps I could ask the Student Union to help me find a few who would like to take part in this week’s activities.
  • Another idea that just popped into my head would be to invite 2 academics who experience a dilemma with their assessment and/or feedback practice and use their story as a trigger, so that the problem is definitely authentic. Actually the more I think about it the more convinced I am that I should give this a go with my next cohort.

There is always room for improvement. 😉 Looking forward to planning some of the above ideas with the next cohort. Exciting and excited again. This is the way it should be…

Students in a million nomination @pgcap #lthejan12

Just wanted to let you know that I submitted the following for the Student(s) in a Million Award

A nation-wide hunt to find and reward the most inspiring students of 2012

I love this cohort, every single student and all of them together! Anne, Ben, Carena, Carlo, Cheryl, Craig, Rania, Gemma, Jason, Jialiang, Jon, Kevin, Liz, Mohan, Oliver, Philip, Becci, Rosie, Sarah and Stanko! These students embraced creativity and innovation, threw themselves into the unknown, took risks, experimented actively and made valuable discoveries during their learning journey which in many cases lead to a shift in thinking, a shift in behaviours, a shift in beliefs and practices. The changes are fundamental and the impact massive! I will put this into context so that you understand.

My name is Chrissi (Nerantzi) and I am the programme leader of the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCAP) at the University of Salford, which is offered to all academics and other professionals who support learning at the university. So all our students who join the programme to develop as teachers in Higher Education (HE) and gain a recognised teaching qualification in HE are actually teachers. Who says teachers are only teachers? We teachers need to model learning –we need to practise what we preach! Learning is not an embarrassment, and being a student is definitely something to be proud of. This group of students who are also teachers inspired me to continue my mission and made me proud, many times during the module. I can’t wait to hear their next success stories.

My nomination for the one in a million is for all my students on cohort 4 who recently completed the Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (LTHE) module of the PGCAP programme. The whole group showed real commitment to learning, overcame struggles with the theory, battled with the technology, confronted creativity and most importantly, through their engagement, they proved that they truly cared about their own students. They were keen to be experimental, keen to be creative, keen to provide rich and stimulating learning experiences to their students – and they did it all really well!!! My students had a lot of fun learning, played games, and immersed themselves into less common learning and teaching approaches. We were a learning community and developed trust. The students stuck together and they supported each other. They learned with and from each other. Cross-disciplinary partnerships and collaborations were formed. Sharing of ideas and good practice happened organically. These students broke out of their silos, practised thinking and teaching outside-the-box and recognised the value in connecting with colleagues from other disciplines and professional areas. These students have become proper innovators for life! Developing and growing progressively before my eyes. I witnessed it through observing them teaching, through learning conversations we had in and outside the classroom, through their reflections in their electronic portfolios and research they carried out. I can’t stop smiling writing all these wonderful things about my students and feel so proud about what they have achieved.

This group of PGCAP students is a real inspiration for future students on the programme but also for their own students and all students and they deserve a formal recognition from the wider learning community for all their hard, innovative and inspirational work. These students are also an inspiration for me! They gave me the confidence to believe that teacher education can make a real difference, especially if we challenge our own habits and beliefs, if we have an open mind and are willing to take risks and actively experiment.

These teachers who are students on the PGCAP programme drive change and have the will, the commitment and the creative energy to transform learning and teaching in their classrooms into stimulating and valuable experiences. Voting for my students means voting for all students who deserve excellent teachers. My students are definitely one in a million!

Snippets from their journey can be found at

  • Flickr

Cohort 4 in pictures

  • Youtube

Embracing creative teaching

Embracing peer observations

Embracing the value of the eportfolio

Embacing the professional discussion

Portfolio samples

Gemma’s portfolio at

Becci’s portfolio at

Cheryl’s portfolio at

some thoughts and reflections linked to our eAssessment webinar #eass12

eAssessment Scotland webinar

this is my PC which I couldn’t use because of my silly headsets that didn’t want to work…

Yesterday, we, Dr. Chris Smith a former colleague at the University of Salford, Craig Despard, a current student on the PGCAP programme and I shared our social media eportfolio assessment approach at the eAssessment Scotland 12 Conference as part of the online programme.

Further clips about our e-portfolio are available here
It was a real privilige to be involved in such an exciting and innovative conference and we had a rich conversation about using social media to build portfolios with colleagues who asked us loads of interesting and challenging questions that made us think. Which is a great! We had the opportunity to reflect on the finer details of our intervention and identify further opportunities to make it even more effective for future cohorts.

Our webinar was well received and we were 40 participants in total (later we were invited to participate in a RadioEduTalk show in the evening, the recording is available at (our conversation starts 45min into this recording), including us and our conference facilitator. The webinar has been recorded (and I dread the moment when I will watch it…  still feeling very strange when listening to myself and seeing myself and hearing my own voice). I think though that the recording will be a useful resource for our programme and provide some details to future students why we are doing what we are doing and how it is working. We are of course, in constact conversation with our students and have taken their ideas and suggestions on board so far and will continue to do so.

During the webinar we shared some sample e-portfolios and I am including the links here as well for your information.

portfolios from current students on the programme

Craig Despard at

Rebecca Jackson at

Dr. Gemma Lace-Costigan

a complete portfolio from an alumni

Neil Currie (Neil kindly made all his feedback, including summative feedback available to the public. So that you can get a rich flavour of all the feedback and conversations we had throughout the module.

Yes, we are very transparent. Feedback is not locked away. All formative feedback is openly shared and accessible to everybody who has access to the e-portfolio. Actually we never said to anybody that the formative feedback should be private or public. It seemed to be normal that they would keep it public, which is really encouraging for us tutors and of real value for all our students since all students would be able to access tutor and peer feedback provided. So learning through feedback provided to others is also enabled and there is evidence that students do read the feedback tutors and peers provide to their peers. Ok, here is Neil’s e-portfolio

During the webinar questions were asked about

  • why we picked the specific platform
  • privacy
  • how assessment and marking works
  • impact on students’ own practices
  • if the style, organisation and creativity are included in the assessment criteria
  • how feedback works

As soon as the recording is available, it will be added here.

We didn’t really focus very much on the details of our feedback approach but disussed more generally the assessment approach and I am therefore including a link to a clip about the feedback we provide and what I feel is important and why. This can also be found within the list of clips linked to our e-portfolios.

eAssessment Scotland Conference

in full flow, using Cristina’s double screen PC, yeh, the headset worked!!!

Book chapter linked to this work
Smith, C and Nerantzi, C (in print) ePortfolios: Assessment as learning using social media, Waxmann publishers, series ”Gesellschaft for Medien in der Wissenschaft” (Association for Media in Science,

a peer observation experiment @pgcap #corejan12

“When we walk into our workplace, the classroom, we close the door on our colleagues. When we emerge, we rarely talk about what happened or what needs to happen next, for we have no shared experience to talk about.” (Palmer, 2007, p. 147)

The purpose of peer observation is to assist in the evaluation and development of teaching and learning approaches, not to make absolute judgements about teaching quality. And while we all understand this, we are still convinced that somebody will make a judgement about us and our teaching. How can we wipe this thought from our minds and feel a bit more relaxed and comfortable about peer observations?

developing together

developing together

Peer observations can only work if we trust each other, if we care about each other, each other’s practices and our students and are keen to help our colleagues develop and grow as teachers. We need to accept and respect their individuality and the strength they have and find a way to motivate them and create an appetite for further development of their practice. Peer observation are valuable for both, the observer and the observed and research shows that the observer actually gets more out of an observation than the person who is observed. This is something I would like to investigate in the near future. Ok, but what is ok and what isn’t in a peer observation context:

  • Positivity needs to shine through!
  • Empathy definitely!
  • Negativity should be absent!
  • Sensitivity is a must!

We need to remember, it is more important how we say things than what we say!

As part of the Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (LTHE) module of the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic  Practice (PGCAP) multidisciplinary programme, we ask our students, who are practising teachers, to carry out a series of peer observations. Some guidance is provided but I think so far but I think there is more we could and should do to help our students to be more prepared for the peer observations and get the maximum out of these when observing and being observed. So far, the majority of our students have valued the opportunity to visit each other’s classrooms. They see it as a great opportunity to watch colleagues from other disciplines teaching and their comments and reflections suggests that they find these peer observations extremely useful for their own learning and practice which is wonderful and encouraging.

Our students are observed by

  • a peer on the module
  • their mentor
  • their tutor

and also observe one of their peers on the module.

I feel that when the tutor observation happens first, there are the most gains for the students.



Recently, I asked one of our students to co-deliver a session with me and it was the first time, I did this. I find team-teaching really useful for further development of teaching practice. It can be a rich and valuable experience for everybody involved and I include the students too. I used to teach this module with a colleague who was very different (and he would agree with me on this) and I had found it useful to reflect afterwards on the sessions together. This is no longer possible. In the past, I have also shared openly my own reflections about specific sessions with previous cohorts to model reflection on own practice but also enable an open and honest conversation about my teaching. And then, I am reflecting on my teaching online hoping to enable conversation, exchange and further learning. I recognise the usefulness of shared reflection and see a lot of value in this type of reflection beyond self-reflection. Sharing our reflections helps us further make sense of situations and experiences and can also help us boost our confidence and be less critical of ourselves but also identify options and strategies to enhance our practice further. It is very easy to be overly critical and negative when self-reflecting and ignoring all the stengths we already have…

Academic Developers, are in a way, peer observed all the time, even if it happens unofficially and reflections are not shared that often. My students are not ordinary students. They are students and teachers and that makes it all even more complicated, I think. Sometimes, I feel this double role is confusing for the students themselves. But it is a useful confusion which enables them to think (and act) as students and reflect at the same time on their practice as teachers. In a way it allows them to be teachers and students at the same time and become more reflective and reflexive and there is evidence in their portfolios that confirms exactly that.

Ok, lets go back to what I wanted to say. I felt that there is a need to equip these students better for what a peer observation could look like by modelling peer observation more openly. Should we really ask students to do things we are not prepared to do ourselves? I don’t think so.

After I had a conversation with one of our students with whom I co-delivered a session recently and reflecting together on another team-taught session and a tutorial with other students in which peer observation featured strongly, I realised that something needs to be done and I started thinking what I could do. More help was needed.

Is this a good idea?

Is this a good idea?

Suddenly an idea popped into my head to be peer-observed officially during one of our LTHE sessions. When this idea occupied my head, I thought: “Why didn’t I think about this earlier???” I was annoyed and frustrated with myself and felt that I had missed this opportunity up to now. I tried to think and think fast about what I could do to help our current cohort to experience and be part of a peer observation as a collective. I knew that I had to become the one to be observed. The one who is officially observed by the whole cohort. And the observer? This should be a colleague, a colleague I value and trust, a colleague who would be constructive and willing, of course, to participate in this strange but valuable, I think, experiment (note to self: I must evaluate this afterwards!).

The target? No, learning is the target!

The target? Not me. Learning is the target!

Not sure if what I am proposing is orthodox and has been done before… in a way I put myself up as a target carrying out 23 peer observations simultanuously… this is a bit scary, I have to say and even more scary that I actually agreed and am going ahead with this. But then again could we view it as a microteaching session? This makes me feel a bit more relaxed, I have to say.

As mentioned before, peer observations should be done in a supportive way and I hope that my own students will see this experiment as a opportunity to develop peer observation skills and not shoot me down.

The observation will focus on whether teaching is likely to result in effective student learning. All processes will be agreed between participants before observation commences. I am transparent about this massive peer observation experiment and am sharing my thoughts here openly, hoping also that (at least) some of my students will read these thoughts and comment in preparation for my big day. The cohort has been informed about my plan and the pre-observation form has also been shared with them already. The process has been explained to all. I have identified specific areas I would like some comments from the observer and the cohort which are captured in the pre-observation form. I hope that we will also be able to capture snippets of the session on video that I can use later to reflect on the session further. Usually, I am the one recording my students teaching. Now it is me in front of the camera. This makes me nervous too… and I know that I will see things in the clips that will make me feel uncomfortable and exposed. However, this experiment will also provide useful data for my research that I have started in Semester 1 linked to using video to aid reflection linked to peer observations.

How many is too many?

How many are too many?

Any outcomes of observation, whether spoken or written, are confidential between pairs of participants, unless both agree to make some or all of the outcomes public. 

Usually peer observations are carried out in pairs and are reciprocal. Sometimes there are three but we will be loads, as mentioned above. The content of the feedback conversations are usually kept private. Sometimes they are shared within reflective accounts and this is what we are doing on the PGCAP to trigger further reflection and learning through reflection. However, in our case, the massive peer observation, can we really speak about confidentiality and private conversations? We can’t avoid that some of what will be discussed within the class, will also end-up out the classroom and probably in different versions as well depending on interpretation of our discussions. I will also reflect on the observation afterwards and share my thoughts with the cohort and the observe. We will see how it goes. Wish me good luck!

What will we take away?

What will we take away from this experience?

And by the way, my peer observer and critical friend is one of our External Examiners. He was on the interview panel for my current job and has helped me a lot since I became the PGCAP programme leader. I am looking forward to this observation and hope that it will be a rich experience for all of us.

My completed peer-observation form follows.

Capturing the peer observation process

  1. Asked a colleague to observe me. Agreed.
  2. I plan my session.
  3. Identify on which areas I would like the observer to comment.
  4. Complete the pre-observation form.
  5. Share pre-observation form with observer.
  6. Organise a pre-observation meeting (this will happen on Wednesday) to discuss the observation
  7. Observation (Observer keeps notes and records)
  8. Open post-observation conversation between me and the observer in front of the whole class.
  9. Students are also invited to comment and ask questions
  10. Summary: What did I learn?
  11. What did everybody else learn?
  12. I will watch the video clips in my own time (if I can do this!) and reflect on the observation and the process (ideally this should happen before the feedback conversation with the observer but it won’t be possible)

Useful questions to ask during the feedback conversation (this is what I do, not sure how my observer will approach this part)

When I have observed a colleague and at the beginning of our feedback conversation (this is better done face-to-face and can be recorded if both agree), I always start by asking the following questions:

  • How do you think the session went?
  • What do you think worked well?
  • What would you do differently if you would offer this session again and why?

These three questions enable the observed to reflect on the experience in a positive and future facing way but also give the observer the chance to empathise with the observed and praise good practice. Many times, comments around what could be done differently are in agreement with the observer’s observations which is really interesting and shows that learning through reflection can really work. I listen carefully to what my colleague shares with me and ask further questions linked to what I hear to trigger further reflection and discoveries which are more valuable if they come from the observed colleague.

If there is something that hasn’t come up yet and I feel it is important, I still mentioning it but again, using questions instead of telling steering the conversation to what I would like to discuss. If we hit the wall, and the observed colleague doesn’t come up with an option or answer, I then make a few suggestions:

  • Could you try this?
  • Would you consider this?
  • What about…?

I avoid using words such as you must, you should etc. and I avoid being negative altogether and using negative language. I don’t want to dictate or instruct. I don’t want to demotivate. I want to empower! I see my role more as a critical friend, a friend who cares. A friend who has some ideas and might be able to help. But also a friend who gives the observed colleague the freedrom to identify what is best for them and their students to move practices forward.

Something that is also vital is to share with the observed what we, the observer have learnt thanks to this observation. What we are taking away. Peer observations enable peer learning and it would be of value to share our learning with the colleague we observed. This will also boost our colleagues confidence and self-belief.

A peer observation links collection is available here.

I am already thinking about next semester and how I can introduce such a peer observation in week 2 or 3 so that students benefit from it early in the module. Thinking of possible options, ideally I should also engage in reciprocal peer observation with a colleague from a different professional area/discipline. Could be somebody who has completed the PGCAP or at least the core module. Any volunteers?

What might happen if we open the door?

My completed peer observation form can be accessed here.


Palmer, P. (2007) The courage to teach, exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Want to know what your students think about your teaching? Ask them! @pgcap #CMC11 MOOC

Last week’s #coresep11 session of the @pgcap made me think and reflect about loads of different aspects of teaching and learning and my own practice.

One of them was a question raised by one of our students, which stayed in my mind since then. The more I started thinking about it the more I felt that there is something here that could be done to organise my own thinking and perhaps start something off that others might find useful as well. What I am attempting here will be just the start and I am inviting everybody who is reading this, to contribute their thoughts and ideas linked to what I am presenting below. The plan is to continuously update this post and co-create a rich resource that might help us all in our practice.

I guess, you are wondering what this is all about. Well, the question that stayed with me is the one around receiving feedback from students. Usually we teachers are the ones providing feedback to our students and often this is problematic too but I am not going to focus on this here.

Students are usually asked at the end of a module or programme to fill out an evaluation form. I see value in creating opportunities for an ongoing dialogue and conversation with the students to enhance practice and respond to the needs of individuals and a specific class. I am not suggesting that we will have to agree with all feedback  received but it can become an additional resource and perspective to our own evaluation and will definitely help us reflect on our practice and be aware of certain views and how students experience our teaching.

  • How can we engage our students in feedback activities that will help us evaluate our practice and move forward?
  • What options do we have?

I am starting this ideas collection hoping that others will contribute their thoughts as well. Everybody who contributes will be mentioned and a link can also be added to their online space. How does this sound?

Ways to get informal feedback about your teaching practice from your students

Get the stickies out!

1. Get the stickies out!

Just before the end of a session, ask our students to write a short statement about your session. Give students about 5min max (no more time is needed) to capture their responses on a sticky note and place them on a door or a wall and then leave the room. All stickys are anonymous and this fact might encourage students to be more honest and critical but not necessarily constructive. Please be aware of this.


  • instead of asking students to write something down, you could ask them to doodle their thoughts on this. You could provide crayons, coloured pencils or coloured pencils too. Access an example here.
  • consider using electronic sticky notes too. Especially useful for online or blended settings but also for face-to-face situation. Stickies can be added any place, any time, which might also be attractive for some and encourage more reflection before posting the feedback. There are a number of free options available to get you started and some of them don’t even require registration and students can add anonymous stickies if they want to. A link to a e-noticeboard collection can be accessed here.

2. Smiles?

These stickers are great. You can find them anywhere, the blank yellow and light blue stickers. I bought them from (cost: under £5) and are available in all sorts of colours. No, the smileys and saddies were not there when I bought them. I added them and that was the fun part. I have now about 1000 of these stickers.

Hand them out and create a table with basic module activities such as

  • delivery
  • information
  • interaction
  • assessment
  • feedback
  • resources
  • online learning spaces
  • support

Then ask your students during a break, before the start of a session or immediately afterwards, to post smileys and saddies into the different columns based on the and resond to comments left by others if they know the answer.


  • Choose different colours and draw different things with different meanings depending on what you would like to find out.
  • Why not use different shapes and/or symbols? You will find loads of ideas on eBay, just look for stickers.
(Lego) creations

3. (Lego) creations

Lego blocks are not just for kids but they are also an excellent way to turn feedback into a more creative and reflective activity. If you are not convinced, check out Lego serious play. Hand out little bags with lego bricks at the end of a session and give your students 5 min to create something that represents what they think and/or feel about your sessions.

Variations of materials. Instead of playdough you might want to use:

  • mobilo
  • playdough
  • drinking straws
  • aluminium foil
  • paper/cards
  • fabric
  • or anything else. The options are endless.
Nothing wrong with surveys

4. Nothing wrong with surveys…

… if they are short and to the point! Think in advance what you really want to find out and have a focus for your survey. Don’t try to get feedback on every single aspect of your teaching in one survey. You might create a series of mini surveys, each with the different focus point. Does this make sense? I have used for a while but the free version makes the analysis and evaluation a bit tricky, so I am actually moving towards using GoogleDocs because the analysis of data is more streamlined.


  • Consider creating a printable survey.
  • You could also ask a group of students to design the survey and then use it for the whole class.
Have a chat

5. Have a chat

You might consider organising an open and honest chat with your students at the end of a session or at some other time in a different location where everybody will feel more relaxed and comfortable to contribute constructively. In order for this to happen, you need also to have created first, I think, a learning community. You might want to make some notes during this or record your conversation so that you can play it back later and help you reflect on what has been said. This way of receiving feedback from your students will also enable you to discuss their thoughts and ask for clarification if needed and explain certain aspects of your practice if required.


  • Group tutorial chat
  • Focus group
  • Individual chat or during a one-to-one tutorial
  • Invite a colleague to have a chat with your students
  • Use a web-conferencing tool
keep a journal

6. keep a journal

Ask your students to keep a reflective journal about the module or programme of studies. You will see that some will also start commenting on their learning experience and express likes and dislikes. Why not set up a class blog (I guess you could use or any other blogging tool and remember it doesn’t have to be all written. Try as well and create and audio journal) to reflect on the sessions together with your students. This way you can model reflection and encourage your students to provide their input and comment on your thoughts.


  • Encourage students to keep a real notebook to capture their reflections off-line if they prefer to do this but it would be useful to gain and insight into their thinking during the module/programme of study.
  • A scrapbook is also another way to create a more visual artefact of the process of learning and reflections.
Pick a card

7. Pick a card

Do you love taking photographs? Have you thought about starting a collection that could be used in your teaching to get feedback from your students? Start with this use and soon you will discover that the images will also be useful in other situations. Don’t worry if you don’t have many photographs yet. There are many out there on the web you can use. Always check the copyright notice and you might want to check out the ones made available under creative commons. You will find loads. Check out flickr and sxc. When you put your collection together, think of different moods and objects and styles individuals can relate to that will trigger reflection. Print them out and laminate them so that they last longer. Then at the end of a session you could spread them on the floor or on a desk or put them on a wall and ask your students to pick one that symbolises how they feel about the sessions so far or about a particular session or a specific aspect of your teaching. It is up to you.


  • Use postcards instead, these can be from different places, activities, objects, paintings etc.
Play a game

8. Play a game

Game-based learning is becoming more popular. I am not sure how much it is used in Higher Education at the moment. However, I am seeing great value in using games for receiving feedback from students.

Think about games you have played. It might be a board game, a card game or a more physical game. This is up to you. You might want to develop a game in collaboration with your students. Think about games you have played and could adapt to gain useful and constructive feedback. Or come up with your own orginal idea and develop it into a concept. Think also about for how many players your feedback game will be and how many groups you need. Keep in mind that games will require more time to develop (unless you have one already) and play but they add a fun element to the process and might make students feel more relaxed too.


  • Digital games
  • Mixed-reality games

9. Flipchart

Could you hang a flipchart on the wall and ask your students to write or draw something that will tell you what they think of your teaching? You might want to leave the room when this is happening because some might want to keep their anonymity. This is up to you.


  • You could also ask your students to create a mindmap on a flipchart on which you could provide some branches to make a start inviting them to focus on different aspects of your teaching.
Traffic light system

10. Traffic light system

The traffic light system is used widely in schools for behaviour management, assessment and check understanding. I think it could also be very useful for getting feedback from students about their learning experience. You might want to create laminated traffic light cards on which students can record the following using a non permanent marker.Later you can wipe the responses off and use the cards again.

  • green – really love this
  • orange – not sure about this
  • red – have a real problem with this

You might decide to change the above statements.

However you decide to collect feedback from your students, I think it is a worthwhile activity if you want to find out how they feel and are keen to enhance their learning experience before the end of your module or programme so that you can digest it and explore opportunities to enhance their experience by making adjustements to your practice.

Remember to use the feedback collected in combination with your own reflection and evaluation. Also discussing your sessions with colleagues as well as carrying out peer observations will help you gain a richer picture and multiple perspectives. If there are more critical comments try not to take them personally. At times you might feel upset but try and understand and think ‘How would you feel if you were in their shoes?’.

Remember you asked your students for feedback because you want to develop your practice further. I think it would be useful to clarify this at the beginning so that your students understand the purpose of this activity. Then they will be more constructive.

Also it is important to get back to your students and share with them in what ways the feedback has been useful for you and what you intend to do with it.

If you lay the foundations of a learning community and turn teaching and learning into a partnership with your students, students will take more responsibility of their learning and soon discover that you need to work together and one way of doing this would be to keep an open and honest dialogue. There is no right or wrong way of getting feedback from students – whatever works for you and your students.

Also check out ESCalate’s page about Student’s experience and student feedback where you will find a number of case studies, including one from me.

Let’s be creative!

Please add your thoughts on the above and further ideas. Why not share what you have tried and how it worked.