Peer Observation

What is Peer Observation?

Peer observation is a process that all participants, whether they’re observing or being observed, benefit from and learn from. Successful peer observation is built on a culture that is respectful, trusting, confidential, and supportive.

Peer observation helps instructors fulfill their professional responsibility to develop and maintain currency in their discipline, teaching, or professional practice (LC, FPDC, 2020, p. 1). 

Lethbridge College encourages innovative course content delivery and diverse learning environments (Niitsitapi Strategy). For this reason, the peer observation process isn’t limited to teaching in the classroom but can also embrace online learning and activities, field trips, and fieldwork.

Instructors are encouraged to creatively expand ‘observation’ to facilitate peer support for a wide variety of teaching activities. You can learn more about online peer observation strategies through the button below. 

The Centre for Teaching, Learning and Innovation (CTLI) at Lethbridge College (LC) offers instructors peer observation that’s based on a collaborative reflective teaching practice. Peer observation aims to improve instructors’ teaching and students’ learning. The peer observation process involves an instructor or a member of the Educational Development or Learning Experience Design team (the observer) observing a peer (the instructor) teaching. The observer then provides constructive feedback on the observed instructor’s areas of strength and areas with room for growth. 

What are the main goals of Peer Observation?

  • To nurture the sharing of ideas and expertise among instructors
  • To collaboratively enhance and extend teaching practice  
  • To facilitate discussions about teaching challenges and successes with trusted peers 
  • To create a safe and enabling environment that fosters learning, development, continuous growth, and confidence of all faculty members (CTLI’s Strategic Innovation Model) 

What Peer Observation is not?

  • A formal evaluation of teaching 
  • A tool to be used for annual instructor review by LC academic centre administrators 
  • Making judgements about an instructor’s effectiveness 

Figure 1: Formative vs. Summative Evaluation

Who participates in Peer Observation?

  • The instructor being observed is any Lethbridge College instructor who wants to participate. 
  • Observers are any instructors or members of the Educational Development and Learning Experience Design teams who are willing to volunteer. 
  • Observers have a range of teaching experience and disciplinary expertise. 

Why engage in Peer Observation?

The peer observation process accomplishes the following: 

  • Provides instructors with a fresh look at how they’re using specific instructional strategies in their classes. Through reflection and discussion with the observer, instructors can identify strategies to build or adapt their teaching and learning practices to better meet learners’ needs. 
  • Allows instructors and observers to reflect on their teaching and to develop a shared understanding of best practices in assessment, learning, and teaching. 
  • The process of self-reflection can be a very personal undertaking and there is no one way to engage in reflective practice. Whether you’re new to teaching or are an experienced instructor, reflective practice is a skill you can develop over time. You can learn more about reflective practice through the button below.
  • Supports many of Lethbridge College’s core competencies (accountability, communication, creativity and innovation, service excellence, leadership, professional and personal development, and relationships). 
  • Allows instructors to focus on specific professional development initiatives and teaching approaches available through CTLI.  

What's involved in the Peer Observation process?

Instructors and observers should discuss and agree upon the aspects of teaching and learning that will be the focus of the observation. Peer observation should be planned, scheduled, and aligned with the LC instructional initiatives (see below). The peer observation process includes the following five key steps: 

Figure 2: Peer Observation Cycle

During self-reflection, instructors consider which aspects of their teaching might be the focus of the observation to benefit from a colleague’s reflection and feedback.  

  1. First, you’ll identify your goals for the observation and choose your peer observer. As Keig (2000) describes, studies of peer observation suggest that “colleagues who respect and trust each other can be invaluable in helping improve each other’s teaching” (p. 68). When selecting an observer, you might ask a colleague from your own academic centre, or someone who’s aware of your classroom context. You’ll also want to choose someone who’s willing to invest their time and effort to provide you with meaningful and constructive feedback.  
  2. We also suggest you complete the TEF self-assessment. This will be a valuable tool for your ongoing self-reflection and further development of your teaching practice within the three levels and across the six dimensions of the TEF. 
  3. Self-reflection also allows instructors to consider other LC instructional initiatives (see below) that might align with or complement their lesson to maximize shared learning experiences and improve student learning.
  4. To learn more about reflective practice click here.
  1. The pre-observation conversation is your time to plan for the class observation.  
  2. If possible, arrange to meet a few days before the observation. This gives your observer more time to understand the lesson and their responsibilities. 
  3. This conversation is meant to establish an agreement about the goals and focus of the visit, the observer’s role during the observation, and the type of observation evidence to be used. The information the observer gathers might focus on goals, the students in the class, the activities that will be presented, and the instructor’s individual teaching practice and style. 
  4. We encourage you to have a conversation with your observer about what is going well so far in your course and what areas you are seeking to improve on.
  5. Before this meeting, it’s recommended that both the instructor and the observer review the TEF self-assessment, the TEF, and applicable LC instructional initiatives to identify other possible focus areas for the observation.
  6. Choose (with your observer) one of the observation frameworks for recording observations during your lesson. 
  7.  This is a good time to provide the observer with a copy of the course outline and your lesson plan to help guide the observer’s understanding of the material you’ll be presenting.  
  8. Peers should confirm when and where the observation will take place. 
  1. This step is about making the most of the observation for both the instructor and the observer. There’s a lot to be gained by both participants! 
  2. The peer observation is structured, and a specific focus should have been agreed on prior to the classroom visit, whether this takes place in person or online.
  3. Make sure you’ve provided your peer observer with any resources and/or clarification needed to document their observation and provide you with desired feedback.  
  4. Inform your students about the peer observation happening in your class. Mention that the peer observer will be in class to observe you, not them.  
  5. Try not to alter your lesson planning or teaching approach too much. You want the observation to reflect your typical teaching approach, not an uncharacteristic one.  
  6. Remember that your observer is there to collect evidence to support a collaborative reflection about your lesson and to help you strengthen your effectiveness as an instructor. They’re not there to judge you or the quality of your performance.  
  7. There are a variety of observation templates to choose from depending on your needs, including 
  1. Debriefing and feedback are critical steps in the peer-review process. Meet as soon as possible after the observation to discuss what was seen while the experience remains fresh. 
  2. Participants will discuss and reflect on aspects of the lesson that were agreed upon as focus areas.  
  3. The post-observation conversation should provide the instructor with supportive feedback aimed at improving their teaching. The instructor should come away with a sense of what they’re doing well, and a few things they can work on. 
  4. The post-observation discussion should be a factual, evidence-based conversation. 
  5. During the post-observation conversation, actively listen to your observer’s reflections and ask for clarification on any areas of feedback. See suggestions they offer as helpful feedback, not criticism. 
  6. Think about the next steps. How can the observer continue to help and support you, the instructor, with your continuous professional development? 
  7. Instructors should prepare for the post-observation conversation by engaging in self-assessment and reflection. Here are some questions to consider when preparing the self-assessment:
    • What was challenging? 
    • What was surprising? 
    • What was a success? 
    • Is there anything you would do differently next time? 
    • Can you identify one or two things you want to work on to improve for next time? (This becomes part of your action plan.)
  8. To support your learning, we suggest using Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle (1988). Based on Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle (1988), a number of helpful discussion prompts are given that can guide you during the self-assessment and during the post-observation chat.
  9. To learn more about reflective practice and Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle, click here. 
  1. Here instructors are encouraged to extend their learning based on LC’s instructional initiatives by incorporating these initiatives into their action plan. 
  2. We recommend booking an educational development consultation to discuss other teaching development opportunities at LC. 

Teaching approaches aligned with LC's instructional initiatives

Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) supports instructors who are seeking continuous professional development and lifelong learning opportunities to improve their teaching practice and benefit student learning. The TEF’s purpose is to outline the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required of Lethbridge College instructors and to build instructors’ awareness of professional development opportunities that will support growth in appropriate focus areas. The TEF’s intended long-term impact is to provide a better learning experience for instructors and students. The TEF is also meant to encourage reflective teaching practice and to refine professional development offerings for LC instructors.  

We encourage peer observation partners to reflect on the TEF’s six dimensions, which are as follows:  

  • Learning environment 
  • Instructional skills 
  • Course and curriculum design 
  • Assessment 
  • Subject-matter expertise 
  • Scholarly teaching and scholarship 

Each dimension illustrates how instructors might apply the focus area in their own teaching context. Sample indicators at three levels (Involved, Engaged, and Leading) help instructors pinpoint the knowledge, skills, and attitudes they already possess and those they’d like to develop further in their teaching practice. Visit the TEF webpage for more information about each dimension and indicator of effective practice through the button below.

Niitsitapi Strategy

The Niitsitapi Strategy is an important milestone in Lethbridge College’s commitment to truth and reconciliation, which will allow the college to create a space of Indigenous cultural inclusion and to deepen its connections with internal and external Indigenous communities. The Niitsitapi Strategy is a living document that will guide Lethbridge College collectively while providing an understanding of the cultural perspective of Indigenous peoples and communities. The strategy’s goal is to ensure that the college community can come together for inclusive, diverse, engaged, and successful education. 

As you reflect on your teaching development, we encourage you to review Theme 3: Curriculum & Pedagogy, specifically Focus 3.1: Develop Indigenous-focused curriculum and innovative delivery of content considerate to the possibilities of Indigenous land-based learning, Blackfoot language preservation and revitalization, and foundational course development and consider how you might honour this focus throughout your course curriculum and learning environment. Visit the Niitsitapi Strategy webpage at Lethbridge College through the button below for more information about the Niitsitapi Strategy.  

Source: 

Lethbridge College. (2021). Coming together in a holistic way: Lethbridge College Niitsitapi Strategy. https://lethbridgecollege.ca/document-centre/forms/indigenous-services/niitsitapi-strategy 

Student Core Competencies (SCC)

Student core competencies might be described as life skills, professional skills, or employment skills. They’re skills all students will develop to varying levels during their time at Lethbridge College—in addition to the knowledge and skills gained in their areas of subject matter expertise. Core competencies are developed both inside and outside of the classroom. As you reflect on your teaching development, consider ways to build student core competencies throughout your course curriculum and learning environment. Visit the Student Core Competencies webpage through the button below for more information. 

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) focuses on the variability of learners and on finding ways, through your learning experience design, to engage all learners and help them succeed. At its core, UDL is a “research-based set of principles to guide the design of learning environments that are accessible and effective for all” (CAST, 2020). Presented below, UDL’s basic principles (Durham College, 2020) make classrooms more inclusive and help learners succeed. Throughout the peer observation process, consider how UDL promotes equitable access and participation for all learners. To learn more about UDL visit the CAST website through the button below.  

Principle 1 Provide multiple means of representation. This means using many different ways to present content and information to learners.
Principle 2 Provide multiple means of action and expression. This means providing learners with numerous ways to show what they know and have learned.
Principle 3 Provide multiple means of engagement. This means using various strategies to motivate learners and stimulate their interest in course material.

Adapted from:  

CAST (2018). Universal design for learning guidelines version 2.2. http://udlguidelines.cast.org 

Durham College. (n.d.). Overview of 3 UDL principles. Universal Design for Learning. https://durhamcollege.ca/ctl/teaching/udl/3-udl-principles/ 

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI)

Faculty members are expected to ensure their courses are accessible to all learners, regardless of background or ability. At a minimum, courses should be designed following universal design for learning (UDL) guidelines (CAST, 2018). CTLI provides a micro-credential on UDL if you’d like to learn more. In addition, some students have the right to access specialized accommodations. It is the faculty member’s responsibility to understand the implications of these accommodations and to adjust their course design if necessary. To learn more, visit the EDI website at Lethbridge College through the button below. 

As you reflect on your teaching development, consider ways to enhance the universal design and culturally responsive teaching (Ladson-Billings, 2014) for all students throughout your course curriculum and learning environment. 

Adapted from: 

Educational Service Center of Northeast Ohio. (n.d.). Culturally responsive observation checklist [PDF file].  https://www.escneo.org/Downloads/EC%20-%20Culturally%20Responsive%20Observation%20Checklist.pdf   

RBT4

Revised Bloom's Taxonomy

Benjamin Bloom (1956) created a hierarchical framework for categorizing educational goals to describe the cognitive processes involved in learning. A revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (Krathwohl, 2002) emphasizes a more dynamic approach to classifying educational learning goals.  

The Learning Experience Design team at Lethbridge College created a guide based on the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy to help instructors develop appropriate outcomes for their courses and program levels. The guide features the cognitive process dimension, which outlines examples of cognitive processes along a continuum of lower-order to higher-order thinking skills. It also includes the knowledge dimension, which classifies types of knowledge that learners may be expected to acquire, from concrete to abstract. A strong understanding of the cognitive and knowledge levels will help you with writing outcomes and assessing student learning.  Throughout the peer observation process, we encourage you to consider how the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy can promote higher forms of thinking in your classes.

Source:

Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Innovation. (n.d.). Revised Bloom’s taxonomy for writing course and program outcomes [PDF file]. Lethbridge College. https://learninginnovation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Blooms-Taxonomy-Doc_v2-2-1-1.pdf 

Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)

Lethbridge College is a member of Colleges and Institutes Canada and has made a commitment to support progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. While these goals address much more than curriculum, there are opportunities to support these goals within programming. Examples of academic integration can be found in the SDG Toolkit and can be used as a jumping-off point.  

As you reflect on your teaching development, consider opportunities for incorporating sustainable development goals (as applicable) throughout your course curriculum and learning environment.  

Adapted from:  

Colleges and Institutes Canada. (n.d.). CICan’s commitment to the sustainable development goalshttps://www.collegesinstitutes.ca/policyfocus/sdg/  

Colleges and Institutes Canada. (n.d.). SDG toolkit for Canadian colleges and institutes. https://sdgcicanguide.pressbooks.com/ 

Image Credit: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/news/communications-material/  

References

CAST (2018). Universal design for learning guidelines version 2.2. http://udlguidelines.cast.org  

Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Innovation. (n.d.). Revised Bloom’s taxonomy for writing course and program outcomes [PDF file]. Lethbridge College. https://learninginnovation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Blooms-Taxonomy-Doc_v2-2-1-1.pdf  

Colleges and Institutes Canada. (n.d.). CICan’s commitment to the sustainable development goalshttps://www.collegesinstitutes.ca/policyfocus/sdg/  

Colleges and Institutes Canada. (n.d.). SDG toolkit for Canadian colleges and institutes. https://sdgcicanguide.pressbooks.com/  

Department of Education and Training, V. (2018). Peer observation, feedback and reflection: A practical guide for teachers [PDF file]. Victorian Government Library Service.   https://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/school/teachers/teachingresources/practice/Peer_observation_feedback_and_reflection_practical_guide_for_teachers.pdf  

Durham College. (n.d.). Overview of 3 UDL principles. Universal Design for Learning. https://durhamcollege.ca/ctl/teaching/udl/3-udl-principles/  

Educational Service Center of Northeast Ohio. (n.d.). Culturally responsive observation checklist [PDF file].  https://www.escneo.org/Downloads/EC%20-%20Culturally%20Responsive%20Observation%20Checklist.pdf   

Keig, L. (2000). Formative peer review of teaching: attitudes of faculty at liberal arts colleges toward colleague assessment. Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education,14(1), 67–87.  

Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy: An overview. Theory into Practice, 41(4), 212–218.  

Ladson-Billings, G. (2014). Culturally relevant pedagogy 2.0: a.k.a. the remix. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1), 74–84.  

Lethbridge College. (n.d.-b). What are the Lethbridge College core competencies? https://lethbridgecollege.ca/document-centre/forms/career-development/student-core-competencies   

Lethbridge College. (2021). Coming together in a holistic way: Lethbridge College Niitsitapi Strategy. https://lethbridgecollege.ca/document-centre/forms/indigenous-services/niitsitapi-strategy  

Purdue University Northwest. (2022). Purpose of the observation – formative vs. summative. https://www.pnw.edu/center-faculty-excellence/programs/peer-observations-of- teaching/purpose-of-the-observation-formative-vs-summative/