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Who Should Observe Teaching

This can generate some heat. Not surprisingly, those who are being observed will want to have confidence in the ability of the observer to do a good job. In particular, should it be someone from the same subject area, or someone who is not? Should it be a peer or someone in a senior position?

Subject-Based Observation

Subject-based observers share the common reference points of their discipline, including common language and concepts, and are likely to have a common knowledge of levels, content and course structure. They can often offer insights into subject-specific teaching problems, for example on how to get over a particularly difficult concept.

However, they may be too engaged with the content of a class to see and describe the processes of teaching and learning. They may also not be familiar with teaching approaches that might usefully be borrowed from other disciplines.

Non-Subject-Based Observation

This may permit a focus upon teaching and learning processes, rather than content, but there may be a lack of disciplinary reference points, unfamiliarity with the subject content and, finally, an inability to link content to teaching and learning processes in feedback

Combining Subject and Non-Subject Observation

Each system, then, has advantages and disadvantages, but it may be possible to maximise the former and minimise the latter by using observers from a cognate discipline who at least share basic concepts and assumptions, or by using two observers, one from the subject and one from outside.

The observer might be:

  • A peer
  • Senior member of staff
  • Member of staff from another department
  • HEFCE Assessor
  • Staff Developer

Each is likely to bring particular strengths. All need to be properly prepared to work effectively.