Tim Stokes Peer Observation Story

Tim Stokes, Geology

My initial foray into peer observation was by chance. Out of three new teaching activities proposed by VIU’s Teaching and Learning Council, this is the one that was selected for me by drawing a paper slip out of the box – a lottery!

I was initially quite apprehensive about peer observation, and was not quite what it was about and why it might be useful. I was also concerned how my colleagues might perceive what I was doing (the link to peer evaluation), and that my teaching style might be critiqued more than I might have wished for.

I was on leave during the Fall 2015, but kept in touch with the peer observation group as to what was going on. In the Spring 2016 I was grouped in a ‘triad’ with two other instructors and we all went through two rounds of the peer observation process.

I was lucky to connect with two similar minded instructors, both interested in reflecting on their teaching practices, and being open-minded to new ideas.

I was teaching a structural geology course using Team-Based Learning so was interested in receiving feedback on the learning activities I was using – particularly in terms of how they were organized and the timing of their delivery.

I was initially surprised how much more I learnt as the observer, recording in detail what the instructor and students did during class, and whether the interacted effectively.

Both of my two observation experiences were quite different in terms of materials, delivery, teaching styles and teaching environment – one being a TBL class (similar to mine) and the other being more of a lecture format with some interactive video assignments. In both cases I think I was able to assist the instructors in providing the feedback on various aspects of their classes.

During the observation of my classes I did felt some pressure to ensure that the learning activities that I provided on the day would work ‘better than usual’, but I did not let that hinder my teaching style. This was my first course using TBL, so I did anticipate somewhat of a learning curve.

The feedback I received was fair and honest. Specifically, I learnt about the importance of sequencing my learning activities so that they were connected, and how the timing of their delivery is key to promoting an in-depth understanding of the materials

In terms of the overall impact to my teaching, I feel that peer observation has given me more confidence and I now know that I am on the right course in terms of how I teach.

I am more comfortable in accepting that mistakes can be made during teaching, and that by careful reflection there is always a way to improve and develop solutions.

Being open-minded and accepting of feedback is important. It also helps having some level of comfort and trust with the person or persons who you do the peer observation with.

In the future, I would be pleased to promote peer observation as way for instructors to reflect on their learning, and I would be happy to do it again and/or provide other with encouragement to try it for themselves.

This being said I think it is important that the system and process of peer observation be carefully discussed and understood before trying it.