I need…

... a haircut

… a haircut

I walk too fast

I move too fast

I can't sit still

I can’t sit still

I flap my arms

I wave my arms around…

I hate my voice

I hate my voice…

I don't like these shoes

I don’t like my shoes

and I look too fat

and I look fat…

… in these videos ;o(

A reflective account of a recent peer observation

These were my first thoughts when I started watching the videos of the observation and the feedback conversation with my observer. I felt extremely uncomfortable and found it hard to watch the clips but in the end I watched them twice and it became easier, I have to admit.

I am currently carrying out research linked to the use of video in the context of peer observations and my own feelings shared above are no different from from comments I have received so far from participants in this study. For example one participant noted:

I really didn’t want to watch myself. I think that you believe you look and sound a certain way and when you see how you ‘really’ are, it can be a shock. Nevertheless, I learned a lot from the process and I would be happy to repeat it again. [core module student]

After trying to forget about all the above and accepting who I am – this was really hard and painful! – I did some valuable discoveries.

First of all, I have to admit that I felt more relaxed during the observation and the discussion that followed than I thought I would. The day before, my heart was racing with 1000 miles per hour up and down a huge and scary roller coaster and there were moments when I felt really sick… On the day, I was nervous initially (how many times did I look through the glass doors?) when Simon arrived a bit late – and hoping that he would have changed his mind maybe? Soon, I felt more relaxed and I was fine. I think there where three main reasons for that.

1. While my history with Simon started stressfully during an intense job interview just over two years ago, he has become a critical friend in recent months and I have shared some of my deeper concerns with him about my role and the programme and he has been very helpful and understanding. I trust him and know that he was wants to support me. Actually this is exactly what Simon said, when I told him in advance of the session how nervous I feel. I wanted the peer observation to help me grow as a teacher (Gosling, 2000) and thought that Simon would be the right person at the time also since he was visiting us anyway for the PGCAP Exam Board and this activity would enable him to gain a better insight of the programme. Usually peer observations happen between colleagues from the same institution but not exclusively as also stated in Bell (2002). These can be in power positions or any colleague, depending on the peer observation model used (Gosling, 2005), which could be managerial, developmental or collaborative . By the way, I got that job when Simon was on the interview panel and I wouldn’t be here today otherwise ;o)

2. I felt comfortable making this feedback conversation in front of the current group because of our special relationship and the openness I have encouraged and the group embraced from the beginning of this module.  Most of us have shared personal stories and have reached out for each other in difficult times. A partnership did grow, in most cases, and we see each other as learning partners now which is wonderful. At least some of the students have become critical friends with each other and I have seen them grow in the weeks that have passed. I trust my students and they trust each other and I think they also trust me, well I hope they do ;o). Shrives and Bond (2003) discuss the role of academic developers and recognise that the way forward is through “building up a relationship based on mutual trust and respect.” (p. 65).  I have seen it many times, the difference relationships can make in what we do and what we can achieve. I also felt that this shared peer observation experience would be of  value for my students since we are asking them to carry out peer observations on the module and were up to now sending them off to carry out peer observation just by talking to them about these. Experiencing one as a participants and informal observer at the same time would be, I thought, more beneficial for them. As Land (2003) suggests “Do as I do” rather than “do as I say” (p. 3) which is indeed more powerful and effective.

3. The session was around assessment and feedback using a Problem-Based Learning approach to maximise engagement and opportunities for self-directed and peer learning. The session has evolved over the last 2 years. This had given me the chance to refine my approach a few times already, not of course that it was perfect, of course. It would be boring to just keep doing the same thing and it is not in my nature to do this anyway. I am too curious about things. Curiosity didn’t kill the cat!!! It took her places! I am confident and comfortable with a variety of assessment and feedback practices and have been using PBL in various settings and engaged in research activities and experimental work around these areas. Knowing what I was doing, sort of, content and process were familiar, helped a lot I think to feel some sort of comfort and confidence that I could do this. But how would I have felt if this would be a brand new session? A brand new topic I knew nothing or very little about? Something that I haven’t taught before? Would it make a difference? What if I was an experienced facilitator without any or very limited subject knowledge? And the question now is, could an experienced facilitator, facilitate any session successfully? And if this is the case, what does this mean for the teachers and the students? Would such a model  be problematic? For whom? And why or why not? I would love to find somebody who would carry out a related experiment with me on this!!! Anybody interested? These are a few of the questions that just popped into my head. Last time, this session was offered, we received really positive feedback and I had been asked by a School to run a similar PBL assessment and feedback workshop for them. This I guess means that the session worked and worked well! This also boosted my confidence a little bit and I believed that it could work again, despite the time constraints – despite the fact that Simon told me during our pre-observation meeting, that my plan “was ambitious”, did he mean “too ambitious”? Time constraints are always there and while I don’t think it is a good idea to remind students that we don’t have enough time… I think I did! You usually say these things and then think, “oh, I shouldn’t have said this” but it is too late because your tongue is quicker than your brain…

The above three reasons  made the peer observation ok in the end and manageable to watch the clips. While I am now writing this, I am listening to the video of the observation in the background. Just hear the noises, the music of learning. The enjoyment, the excitement! I have a big smile on my face because I can really hear the engagement, I can sense the excitement – the classroom sounds like in a busy market place on a Saturday morning. It was definitely a (loud) and collaborative thinking classroom! Pure magic!!! This magic helps me relive some of the special moments and triggers more and deeper reflection and thinking. I am actually now thinking that we could make an mp3 file out of the video recording of the session and share it with everybody. How would my students react? What would they think? Would they find it as fascinating as I do? There is of course the possibility that they wouldn’t… For me, just listening to the voices, the sounds, the music, the laughter enables me to focus, re-focus and re-create my own connections, visual memories and reflections.

What did I notice?

  1. Delay in reflection to kick in (experiencing a reflective blackout?): While I reflect in- and on action and am always confronted with dilemmas which I try and resolve when they occupy my mind, reflecting immediately after the event and being asked questions was challenging and stressful – it didn’t work very well for me, I have to say and I feel that I didn’t answer Simon’s questions properly… Was it too fresh? Was some time in between the observation and the feedback conversation needed? Should I have watched the observation video first? I think the answer to all this questions is YES. However due to the circumstances this was not possible and I am grateful to Simon and the time he spent with the whole group and participating in this experiment. An example of this delay for the reflection to kick in, when Simon asked me the question what happened when I split the class into groups. I just couldn’t remember what exactly I should have noticed. If I had seen the video of the session before he asked me this question, I would definitely have seen that nobody was listening and that the groups did their own thing. For a while I appear to be talking into the black hole. Everybody was ignoring me!!! What could I have done? Obviously the bell doesn’t work anymore. I think next time, what I will try is to sit quiet without saying anything and see what happens. Silence can be very powerful. Another strategy would be to leave the room and see what happens then. I am thinking about options and will try a different approach next time. I am also thinking of getting a different “noise maker”… must check what Argos has… or the Poundshop ;o)
  2. Students defending teacher (ganging up on the observer?): I had seen it before from the other side, when observing teachers in their classrooms and when talking to students afterwards about their teachers. Now my very own students agreed with most of my decisions and disagreed with some of the observers comments. Is this what people naturally do? Was this a defense mechanism? Did my students feel that they had to defend me or did they really feel that I had taken the ‘right’ decisions… if there is such a thing, for example linked to a. break or no break b. how the intended learning outcomes where presented. c. Students also agreed with what I thought they got out of the session. This was all very exciting and I would love to ask them what made them agree with my decision and my rationale. Was it the familiar against the stranger? Was it an in- and out of-group re-action or am I reading too much into this now and start over-analysing situations…
What did the observer say? 
  1. Less is more: I would agree with this as suggested by the observer but I really find it hard to de-touch myself from some of the things I want to do and feel excited about. This is my big problem you see. Too often I also think, that I enjoy the course more than my students… I have too many ideas which do clutter probably some of my sessions and this observation made me even more aware of this, especially now that there is video evidence of this as well… at least not all the clutter is captured  there… I have to say that I am so pleased that one of the PBL groups discovered the feedback sandwich because in the past, in a similar session, I did  bring in bread, ham, and lettuce etc and actually made a real sandwich to demonstrate this. I decided the night before NOT to do this and I am pleased but also sad because I know from comments received from past students that the making of the sandwich stayed in their minds and helped them creative a visual image of feedback and also understand the importance of feedback, how to phrase and frame it in a positive, constructive and sensitive way. I will continue thinking about decluttering, I will try my best and I  recognise that it is vital to help my students on their journey. But then again, while I am writing this, another part of myself thinks, what is wrong with a (short) detour? What if learning and teaching does become a bit messy? Is there any learning that is straightforward? Is there such a thing as linear learning? This is something that I have been thinking about many times. I don’t like boxes. Ok, we need some structure, or better frameworks which, I think need to be not just flexible but elastic and create the environment for messy and experimental learning to happen! I have captured my thinking about this in the photovoices “the messiness of learning”.
  2. PBL groups: I think this was my main challenge. Groups were formed based on specific criteria. My rationale was to stengthen existing relationships, give opportunities for individuals to work with others whom they knew less but also keep certain individuals apart. Looking back now, I think I should have used  the existing action learning set groups. Why? Because in a way, action learning set group members had already opportunities to work closer together in the last 7 weeks, got to know each other a  bit better and had started bonding. Their relationship would have helped enormously with the PBL task, especially if we think about Tuckman’s model of team development. Tuckman suggests that there are four main stages that lead to effective teamwork. Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. I asked the PBL groups to do this rapidly. Did it work? No, it didn’t. Well, it it work in some, but not in all groups. The PBL groups, where at different stages and while some moved more swiftly from the Forming, Storming to the Norming and the Portforming Stage and glued, I think there was evidence that some groups were stuck in the Storming stage while trying to Perform at the same time. If I had kept the action learning sets for the PBL groups, the disadvantage would be that it could potentially increase a silo and in- and out-of group learning approach which I wanted to avoid. So, again, I am not sure I think at this stage… which is confusing, I have to admit! The observer asked me a question linked to the group dynamics in these PBL groups. I had noticed that there were problems in some of them but was unsure how much to intervene. Part of me wanted to step in and maybe I should have done. The other part of me was thinking, let the group work it out. They will learn more this way. Then again there are specific roles in PBL. I could or should have emphasised more on these!  Hmelo-Silver (2002) defines the role of the PBL facilitator as somebody who helps “students construct causal explanations that connect theories, data and proposed solutions.” (p. 10) and I would agree with this, I think I should really  have helped some of the groups more. Perhaps though I expected also a certain level of what Moon (2009, 8) calls academic assertiveness and  defines as “a mix of self awareness and awareness of the behaviour of others, the development of some abilities, some ideas and specific techniques. Being assertive involves also a willingness to apply these ideas to yourself, to learn from them and change where necessary. Being assertive in a group context sets up a mindset to sort things out and we all know that being in groups can be difficult.” Why did this not happen? Is the why related to time and the newness of the group members and goes back to Tuckman? It was a tricky situation and I don’t wanted to be directive but I think it is needed sometimes in PBL especially when working with students who are brand-new to PBL. Facilitators should, I think, move progressive from a push to pull approach and I acted as if we were ready for pull. For the majority of students, this was the first time they experienced PBL and while we had a clear framework, a structure and agreed roles (a chair, a timekeeper and a scribe) I am not sure that all groups made effective use of these roles. If we would use again PBL in the next session, and I would keep the same PBL groups. I think the groups would approach their collaborative task differently the second time. I am sure most, if not all, reflected on how their group performed but also what role they played and have learned something valuable from this experience. The major roles, such as chair, scribe and time keeper were decided from the outset and the groups agreed that they needed to formulate ground rules. What happened? What could I have done? Ask each group to take 5min, discuss accepted working practice and agree the rules of the game. Could Moon’s (2009) checklist on academic assertiveness (see page 9) be a useful guide to formulate ground rules? At a first glance, I think it would be useful. The agreed ground rules could be captured on a piece of paper stuck to the table next to the scenario and the PBL model we used. The chair could then remind everybody of their group agreement, especially if it was felt that things were going out-of-control. I think that would have helped. Why didn’t I think about this?  
  3. Clean start: De-clutter! said Simon. This is definitely something I must address. It is not my intention to confuse anybody. All I want is my students to think and perhaps I am asking them to think about too many different things at the same time… I think, I do. So, all these little activities that were added to the beginning of the session, such as the sharing of the very personal story “The white magic sauce” and the “Ask the students about assessment and feedback” research activity where not used to their full effect. Looking back now, and while I think I agreed with the observer that they need to go! I am now re-thinking and see a potential in using them differently. The story would be much more powerful at the end of the session to bring closure but also extend thinking beyond the classroom. The research activity should really be carried out in advance of the session. I could have asked everybody to ask these 2 questions a student on their way in this morning. Why didn’t I think about these things? But it shows that there is always room for improvement and that sometimes it takes a while to see things clearer and in a different light. When we have such eureka moments it is exciting and revitalising!
Biggs (1999) notes that “a reflection in a mirror is an exact replica of what is in front of it. Reflection in professional practice, however, gives back not what it is, but what might be, an improvement on the original.” (p. 6) So…

What did I learn

  • peer observation is a powerful tool to enhance practice
  • it should be done regularly
  • pick a person you trust from a different discipline or professional area
  • be open
  • involve students
  • record the session if you can, or snippets
  • be brave and watch the video
  • watch the video again
  • give the person who has been observed some time to reflect before meeting
  • take notes during the conversation
  • record the feedback conversation with the observer
  • reflect and share your reflections with the observer and your students
  • take actions to enhance practice based on the observation, the conversation you had with your observer and your students.

Usefulness of the peer observation for my students

After carrying out this open peer observation experiment, I felt the need to find out what my students thought of this, if it was useful and in what ways. Evidence suggests the following:

  • Better understanding: Students agreed that it helped them develop a better understanding of peer observations and what is expected and “what it is about” as one of the students commented.
  • Demystifying peer observations: It enabled them to gain a better insight of peer observations and demystify these. A student noted “You can also see that potentially worrisome things like observations aren’t that bad. […] I bet loads of people on the course really benefited.”
  • Common observations: the feedback conversation that follows these and confirmed, in most cases some of their observations which agreed in most cases with the observer’s feedback. A student noted: “The observers feedback gave me confidence that I am good at giving feedback following observations, as his comments were similar to those I would have made.”
  • Feeling nervous: Seeing their tutor being observed and feeling nervous, just as they do, made the students realise that we all feel very similar when being observed. One student said: “It was helpful to see Chrissi going through the same experience as we go through, and encouraging to see that she wasn’t entirely relaxed either, just as we are when being observed.”
  • Observation resources: Students agreed that these were useful to access in advance and following the observation.


It is over now. Some might think that this was a risky strategy but I am pleased I took this risk. One of my students actually said doing the feedback conversation that followed the observation that “doing this publicly, in front of her students, that was brave!!!” I think it is important to be open and transparent and model learning if we want our students to learn. Engaging in such shared activities with our students and opening our classrooms are vital to further enhance practices. I feel that I learned a lot and most importantly my students benefited as well as it gave one of our External Examiners an insight into the programme, which is an added bonus. As he said:

 “I thoroughly enjoyed observing. It gave me a far greater insight into the work you are doing and a better idea of the excellent stuff. I expect the work will reflect this in the future, so well done. So I should be the one saying thank you for inviting me. You are clearly a very thoughtful and good teacher and I learned a lot from watching yesterday. […] It was my pleasure and I did genuinely learn a lot from being involved both from you and the way you worked with the participants, but also from the participants as well. So all in all, a very worthwhile experience.”

What I am going to do next

  • I feel that I would benefit from reading these reflections again and watching the clips too after maybe a month or so to identify how much my thinking has developed and changed since then.
  • I must identify some very specific enhancement opportunities to this specific session but to my practice more generally!
  • I would like to integrate this open peer observation experiment into the module and carry it out in week 2 or 3 to assist students in the peer observations they have to do.
  • I must remember to arrange a better seating for the group next time for the feedback conversation. A circle would have been much better and I wouldn’t have to talk over my shoulder…
  • I would like to identify a peer observation buddy for the next academic year and engage in regular peer observation.
  • And last but not least, I MUST have a haircut soon! ;o)

Palmer (2007) states “Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves.” (p. 11) this is something I aspire for.

Final notes: Bell (2002) notes that “the presence of an observer or video may affect the dynamics in a small class” (p.8). This is also documented in Gosling (2002), however others strongly suggest that the use of video in peer observation can be beneficial to aid reflection and further development (Keig and Waggoner, 1994). In this session, we had an external peer observer who also recorded large parts of the session and I don’t think that these factors altered significantly what happened during the session. However, a small minority stated that they behaved differently during the observation because the session was recorded. Generally, I think my students have got used to being filmed on this module. I also take regularly photographs in class, and we have completed video activities together as well, which all helped and made them feel more relaxed. I was probably more nervous than anybody else at the beginning but have to say, that as the session progressed I “forgot” that Simon was there and that he was filming too. This has been a highly useful activity for me and I think for my students too. But I would like to investigate further in what way it was useful for them.

Palmer (2007, 147) states “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.” – if we want to change this, we, academic developers, need to open our classrooms as well.

Thank you Simon for being so generous with your time and all my lovely students from CoreJan12 from the PGCAP. A special thank you also to Liz who did a great job recording the feedback conversation, Sarah who took detailed notes, see: notes_from_feedback_conversation and Craig who helped me patiently finding a way to upload these massive videos and showing me the pineapply HandBrake tool. Simon also provided additional written notes referring to before, during and after the observation which can be accessed here SLB_Observation for Chrissi.

"the journey is more important than the arrival" T. S. Eliot

“the journey is more important than the arrival” T. S. Eliot

Access all related posts by clicking here.


Bell, M. (2002) Peer Observation of Teaching in Australia, Centre for Educational Development and Interactive Resources, University of Wollongong, LTSN Generic Centre, available at http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/resource_database/id28_Peer_Observation_of_Teaching_in_Australia [accessed 20 March 12]

Biggs, J. (1999) Teaching for Quality Learning at University, Buckingham: Open University Press.

Gosling, D. (2000) Guidelines for peer observation of learning and teaching, The Higher Education Academy, Escalate Resource, available at http://escalate.ac.uk/resources/peerobservation/ [accessed 17 March 12]

Gosling, D. (2002) Models of Peer Observation of Teaching, LTSN Generic Centre, available at http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/resource_database/id200_Models_of_Peer_Observation_of_Teaching [accessed 20 March 12]

Gosling, D. (2005) Peer Observation of Teaching, SEDA Paper 128, Birmingham: SEDA.

Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (2002) Collaborative Ways of Knowing: Issues in Facilitation, Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey in Proceeding CSCL ’02 Proceedings of the Conference on Computer Support for Collaborative Learning: Foundations for a CSCL Community, available at http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1658645  [accessed 17 March 12]

Keig, L. and Waggoner, M. D. (1994) Collaborative Peer Review. The Role of Faculty in Improving College Teaching. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No 2, Washington, DC: The George.

Land, R. (2003) Orientations to Academic Development in Eggins, H. and Macdonald, R. (eds.) The Scholarship of Academic Development, pp. 34-46. The Society for research into higher Education and Open University Press.

Moon, J. (2009) Making groups work. Improving group work through the principles of academic assertiveness in higher education and professional development, Higher Education Academy, Escalate, available at http://escalate.ac.uk/5413 [accessed 17 March 12]

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

Shrives, L. and Bond C. (2003) Consultancy in educational development, in: Kahn, P. and Baume, D. (eds.) A Guide to Staff and Educational Development, SEDA, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 61-75.

my completed pre-observation form @pgcap #corejan12

Form for recording details for a peer observation


Observer’s Name Dr. Simon Lygo-Baker

Date & Time 15 March 12, 9.30-12.30pm (3h)

Location Clifford Whitworth Conference Room

Module & Session title LTHE CoreJan12 – Assessment and Feedback

Number of learners 22

Observed: Chrissi Nerantzi


This is week 7 out of 10. 22 students in total, very versatile group, some more vocal than others. All students are teaching here at the university and there is a rich mix of individuals: different age groups, cultures, disciplines and professional areas, roles  and different levels of experience teaching in HE. Some are very new to teaching. A few very experienced teachers. Generally attendance is good and the majority of students seem to be positive and participate actively in the sessions. A few were more challenging but have now calmed down a bit and a small number of students is  less engaged with the module overall which worries me.

I really love this group and I am pleased that most have seen this module as an opportunity to open their eyes and minds to different approaches and have become little experimenters and have also starting forming peer relationships. I have to say, I am really looking forward to my Thursday sessions. I see teaching and learning as a partnership and my approach is based on challenging beliefs and practices, my own and these of my students, through reflection and active experimentation. We are going to experiment with PBL in this session.


Learning outcomes to be achieved during the session

  • to participate and collaborate in small group PBL with an assessment and feedback theme
  • to identify and critically analyse issues linked to the given PBL trigger
  • to present findings to another team and provide feedback


Brief session outline

The session will start with a warm-up activity around assessment and feedback (this will be interesting! Split class into 2 groups). We will then go straight into PBL mode and PBL groups will be formed (must remember to remix existing action learning sets! I need 5-6 groups in total max 4 in each – use identified buddies as leaders, students pick their buddies). PBL was introduced in the previous session but it might be useful to remind students of the PBL process and share the model we are going to use (experienced PBL practitioners in the cohort, so I should use their expertise as well!) All PBL groups will work on the same trigger which consists of part 1 and 2. Extension activities planned but will depend on progress groups are making and time available. There is one activity (which I am not going to reveal here…) that I MUST do while groups are busy discussing the feedback part of the trigger. Will I get their attention? Will they get the message?

Note: I intend not to use Powerpoint at all (I might just put the trigger up, not sure yet). Some resources will be printed and the PBL groups will receive the trigger and a copy of the model. Also, I must remember to explain the use of the “help flag” at the beginning (must create these for all groups).


Rationale for session

Learning about PBL by doing – is the intention. This way, students will get more familiar with PBL (hopefully!) through actually experiencing it, but also have the opportunity to explore and investigate together issues linked to assessment and feedback. Is this too ambitious? The subject is this way introduced through the trigger which presents a completely different way of delivery (and formative peer assessment). We have some PBL practitioners within the group. The majority of students, however, in this cohort is used to a content-driven mode of teaching and I would like them to experience something very different and consider for their teaching. Will this work?

Are there any aspects of the session you would like the observer to focus on?

It would be very useful to comment on the following aspects:

  • Interaction with students, individuals and PBL groups
  • Instructions
  • Facilitation strategies
  • Time management
  • Handling a difficult situation (if anything comes up)


What will happen at the end of the session? To check: Could this be recorded? Maybe the observer could do this? I have a tripod and a camcorder. Only record snippets that can be used for further discussion, reflection and learning.Observer discusses the observation with me in front of the whole class, modelling what would happen during a feedback conversation that follows a peer observation.Students are also invited to comment.It would be useful to capture key elements of the discussion and the process. Maybe we could have 2 students keeping different notes?

  1. key features of the discussion
  2. process of feeding back (questions used?)

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.