Peer Support of Teaching at Aberystwyth
These guidelines form the basis for peer support of teaching in academic departments at Aberystwyth University from September 2020. With the move to more online teaching, as well as socially-distanced in-person teaching, this guidance is designed to help staff support each other through discussion about, reflection on, and in some cases, observation of teaching and learning activities.
It may be possible to observe some teaching activities, particularly online synchronous sessions using MS Teams. Staff may prefer to discuss their online activities and materials, such as Blackboard activities, Panopto recordings etc. We don’t recommend observation of in-person teaching under the current social distancing regulations.
Peer support of teaching is a means to help staff develop their teaching in collaboration with colleagues. Participants reflect on areas of good practice and identify areas for further development. As a vehicle for continuing professional development (CPD), peer support of teaching is:
- A two-way process in which the supporter and the supported learn from each other, develop their practice, and enhance students’ learning experience
- A mechanism for identifying and disseminating good teaching practice
- A means for staff to reflect on, develop, and evidence their skills and expertise
In order to preserve the value of reflection for development, it is essential that peer support of teaching remain independent of any processes related to appraisal and promotion.
Peer Support Session
All staff and postgraduate tutors who teach or train students at any level must be offered a Peer Support session at least once during the academic year. The process will be non-judgmental and undertaken in a dignified and mutually respectful manner.
While the university works under social distancing regulations, we recommend the following models. Staff should chose the model that best suits their teaching
- Conversation about Activities and Online Materials
- Observation of Online Class
Conversation about Online Activities and Materials
This is designed to help colleagues explore the design and implementation of online learning activities and materials. It will focus on how learning activities have been designed and how they fit with other activities in the course.
Colleagues should meet via Teams (or similar) to discuss the aspects of their online learning activities to be covered. This may be specific activities (such as the use of online discussion in a module) or the more general design of the module (e.g. use of Blackboard to support students’ learning).
Before the conversation, the person supporting a staff member should be given access to Blackboard, Teams or any other environments used. They should also discuss which aspects to focus on. Once they have had time to look at the relevant resources, they should arrange a meeting via Teams (or similar).
This conversation should focus on the decision making behind the use of the activity or approach, how students are engaged and supported online. The supporter should provide feedback, discussing areas for further development and areas of good practice. You may wish to make collaborative notes during the conversation, using the shared document feature in Teams (or similar mechanism). The person observed retains control over the comments from the conversation and can decide whether aspects of the review can be disseminated for the benefit of colleagues. Everyone involved in the process must respect the confidentiality of the information gathered.
Observation of Online Class
This is like the traditional classroom peer observation of teaching, but it takes place online. The observation consists of three stages:
- Pre-observation discussion
- Observation of online teaching
- Post-observation discussion
In the pre-observation session, the person observed decides which aspects of their teaching will be the focus of the observation. They can request feedback on any elements of their teaching, such as teaching materials, PowerPoint design, module outline or handbook, organisation of the module in Blackboard, or other elements as desired. The observer and person being observed discuss and agree on the criteria of good practice. The observer should be provided with a link to the online meeting in advance of the session.
During the observation, the observer takes detailed notes on what happens during the session, especially noting any student interaction and responses to teaching activities. For example, a timeline-based approach can be especially useful (e.g. ’10:10 lecturer began lecturing from PowerPoint; 10:30 think-pair-share activity, students brainstorm about how a key concept from the reading relates to the lecture, students were actively engaged in the pair work and 20% contributed to the whole-class discussion; 10:40 lecturer returned to lecture mode’).
The observer does not participate in the online session and must be sensitive to the dangers of distracting students in a tutorial or seminar environment where student contributions are required.
Within a week of the observation, the observer uses the Feedback Template to share feedback with the person observed, discussing areas for further development and areas of good practice. The person observed retains control over the comments from the observation and can decide whether aspects of the review can be disseminated for the benefit of colleagues. Everyone involved in the process must respect the confidentiality of the information gathered.
A designated staff member in each academic department records the observations in a university-wide online system. See Recording a Peer Support of Teaching Session (DOC) / Recording a Peer Support of Teaching Session (PDF)
The information recorded consists of:
- Name of person being supported
- Name of supporter
- Date of observation or support session
- Module ID code
- Type of session (e.g. lecture, seminar, practical, etc.)
- Any notes on areas of good practice
The departmental Coordinator of Learning and Teaching will report any areas of good practice to the department’s Learning and Teaching Committee. In addition, the university encourages staff to share good practice across departments through any appropriate means. These can include presenting at the Learning and Teaching Conference, creating a video case study for the university web site, or any other platform for sharing good practice.
The Learning and Teaching Enhancement Unit offers consultancy and training on peer observation of teaching. Please contact the Lecturer for Learning and Teaching.
Staff can download the Peer Support Feedback Template (DOC)
Fletcher, Jeffrey A., "Peer Observation of Teaching: A Practical Tool in Higher Education" (2017). Journal of Faculty Development. (32)1. https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/fshn_hs_pubs/23 (accessed 22 Sept 2020)
University College of Dublin, ‘Peer Observation of Teaching’, Teaching and Learning,. https://www.ucd.ie/teaching/professionaldevelopment/peerobservationofteaching/ (accessed 22 Sept 2020). This site has helpful background documents about peer observation of teaching.
Guidelines last updated in September 2020.