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 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.
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.