Another invaluable source of feedback on teaching can be gathered by working closely with a peer either from within your own Department or from another Department. This process can be beneficial for both parties involved and can also have the added benefit of starting collegial conversations about teaching practice and methodology. It can also be a very rich source of artifacts and information for reflection and growth. There are a number of ways in which your peers can help improve your teaching and provide feedback:
- Direct Peer Feedback - the process of having a peer observe one or more classes and provide feedback on specific areas of interest to the instructor.
- Peer Coaching - working closely with a fellow instructor (usually an instructor with more experience) to gather information specifically about teaching from and bounce ideas off of.
- Student Focus Groups - by working with a peer, valuable student information can be collected and shared in a straightforward and effective format that yields information that is far richer and timely than traditional course evaluations.
- Instructional Skills Workshops (ISW) - an intensive 4-day program offered to Faculty that involves a series of teaching and peer-feedback exercises designed to help strengthen teaching skills and practice.
Direct Peer Feedback
The use of peer review of your teaching can provide some very useful insight into many different areas of your practice. Having a colleague that you respect and trust take a look at your planning and assessment strategies as well as coming into your classroom to observe you in action can provide some very powerful feedback for your growth and development. To help facilitate this process the Teaching Centre has a pool of people who would be interested and willing to engage in this process with you or you can approach a colleague to see if they would be interested in engaging in this process with you. The process can be even more rewarding if done in a reciprocal arrangement where each Faculty members provides the other feedback. It also has the added benefit of creating community around teaching.
This process can take different forms, but usually follows a series of steps similar to this:
- a pre-observation meeting to discuss expectations and parameters
- a classroom observation or observations
- a post-observation debriefing to discuss what was observed and provide informal feedback
- a written summary that documents the process and provides concrete and formal feedback
It is important that this cycle be completed within as short an amount of time as possible. This is key so that the discussion, observations and feedback all occur while the events are fresh in both parties minds. If too much time passes, the impact of the experience is diminished for both reviewer and reviewee.
There are a few guidelines that we strongly suggest for the process of peer feedback in order to ensure that both the reviewee and reviewer are clear on the expectations and as comfortable as possible with the process:
- The reviewer and reviewee discuss the parameters of the feedback with the reviewee deciding which areas of their teaching they would like to receive feedback on. While general feedback can be helpful, more often it is easier and more useful to have the reviewer focus on particular parts of the instruction. The reviewer must keep in mind the weight of what they are being asked to participate in and keep a very professional approach to the process. Being asked to provide feedback of this nature is a very personal activity, and they need to be sensitive to the way in which they deliver their observations to the reviewee while at the same time providing constructive feedback that will be helpful.
- The reviewer is a silent observer within the class setting. While the reviewee may introduce them (if they choose), they are not to participate in the class. Their role is to observe the instructor and students to provide objective feedback. Once they begin to take part in the class, they lose this objectivity and perspective.
- The entire process and all of the material produced is the express property of the reviewee and should not be shared with anyone else. It is up to the reviewee who, when and how this information will be used and shared with others (if at all).
If you are not sure where to start or have questions about the process, make an appointment to meet with one of our Teaching Development Coordinators to discuss this further
Peer coaching is an evolution (or devolution) from the practice of clinical supervision of teachers in practice in which the coaches role is to help the instructor being coached to achieve the goals that they establish as part of the process. The fundamental difference between Peer Coaching and traditional peer mentoring approaches is that it is not designed to be evaluative in any way. Barbara Gottesman is a pioneer in the area of Peer Coaching and has written several books along with numerous articles on the subject - one of which is Peer Coaching in Higher Education (2009). While this practice was originally developed for K-12 schools, Barbara has very successfully transferred these practices to Higher Education.
The process consists of 5 basic steps - all performed within a single day (with the exception of the request) as outlined by Gottesman:
- Requesting a visit
- Class visit (not usually an entire class)
- Reflecting - coach reviews observation information and makes some suggestions
- Meeting - coach and instructor meet to discuss notes together. If the instructor is ready, suggestions are shared.
- Debrief - did the process work? Were the suggestions helpful?
There are some identified benefits of this method of gathering feedback that go beyond just helping to improve teaching efficacy and student learning. This process helps to break down the isolation that instructors can feel within their role as teachers but also contribute to create a culture of community around teaching practice.
For more information on the process, we encourage you to check out the following resources:
Peer Coaching in Higher Education, Barbara L. Gottesman (2009) - sample chapters available online
Huston, T., Weaver, C. L., (2008) Peer Coaching: Professional Development for Experienced Faculty, Innovative Higher Education, Vol. 33, Issue 1, pp 5-20.
Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW)
The Instructional Skills Workshop is comprehensive instructor development program that is recognized internationally and has been in use for over 35 years. The workshop is an intensive peer-lead four day (28 hours) teaching boot camp designed to help Faculty:
- identify and build on their existing strengths
- develop new skills and techniques
- create an interdisciplinary cohort of peers who love teaching as much as you do
One of the unique things about the ISW is that it isn’t simply a workshop where you listen to people talk about different ways to approach instruction in the classroom. Rather it is designed to immerse the participants in their teaching and provide them with immediate feedback from their peers on what they observe during these sessions.
For more information about ISW, check out these resources.
Instructional Skills Workshop Network - http://iswnetwork.ca/
ISW Workshops at the University of Lethbridge - http://www.uleth.ca/teachingcentre/faculty-workshops
The Instructional Skills Workshop as a Transformative Learning Process - https://wiki.ubc.ca/images/1/17/ISWasTransformativeThesis111117.pdf
To participate in an ISW, please contact the Teaching Centre to find out about upcoming dates and availability.