It has been demonstrated time and again that no matter how experienced we are at what we do a pair of fresh eyes can almost always lead to improvement. With this in mind, Warren Rosenberg, as the College’s first Coordinator of Faculty Development, initiated an informal Peer Observer Program in 2014, and the program continues today, organized by the current Coordinator of Faculty Development (Neil Schmitzer-Torbert).
Each semester, an invitation to participate in the Peer Observer Program is sent out in the first week of class to the faculty. If you are interested in visiting your colleagues’ classes and then having your colleagues visit yours at least once this semester, just reply to that invitation with your name (and the classes you would prefer to have people visit). The coordinator will compile the responses and then distribute the list of participants. You can then form your own groups, like speed dating. To facilitate the process of forming groups, the coordinator will organize a meeting early in the semester to allow interested individuals to schedule class visits. For this type of peer observation, it is useful to think about joining faculty who are not in your department, and perhaps not even in your academic division. In fact, people not in your field may have even fresher observations to make. (This is likely to be true of folks in the STEM fields, who may already have extensive team-teaching experience with colleagues in their department.)
While each POP group is free to organize in whatever way works best for the group, the general POP recommendations are:
- Organization: Form groups of 3-4 faculty early in the semester, and schedule class visits, where each group member will observe one class meeting for each of the other group members.
- Exchange materials: After setting up a schedule for class visits, share any relevant materials with group members (such as copies of syllabi, reading lists, or planned activities). If your course makes heavy use of Canvas, consider adding group members to your course as an Observer.
- Class visits: Over a 2-week window, the groups will complete their class visits. Ideally, this would take place either just before mid-semester, or just after.
- Self-reflection: After completing observations, look over your notes to prepare for discussion and sharing. Focus on what you have learned about your own teaching through your observations.
- Wrap-up: Meet with your group members over coffee or lunch to discuss your self-reflections. In your conversations, avoid evaluating the performance of your colleagues, and instead focus on what you have learned about your teaching through observing your peers.
Keys to the program
The observations are purely formative; no reports will be kept. (If any group member would like to use or refer to an observation in a formal review, agreement from the reviewee must be obtained.)
There are no distinctions expected. Experienced colleagues can team up with less experienced colleagues; or colleagues in their first two or three years can team up; or colleagues here plus twenty years can pair up. The choice is yours.
Useful resources for how to conduct these kinds of group observations can be found at the links below (some parts of which have been adapted for use in this page and the POP recommendations):
- Carol Berenson (University of Calgary) – Observe and Reflect on Teaching & Learning
- University of Toronto – Teaching Squares or Triads