Collaborative Observation

Quality Teaching | Meaningful Learning

Peer Observation at Northampton

What is special about Peer Observation at Northampton?

Peer Observation at Northampton is very much a peer-to-peer process, known as Collaborative Observation, and reflects the University’s commitment to assuring and enhancing the quality of the student learning experience and to providing developmental opportunities for teaching enhancement.

The process is ‘a peer based, collaborative, non-judgmental scheme designed to provide opportunities for participants to enhance the learning experience of their students and to reflect on and develop aspects of their own professional practice. The scheme recognises that all participants, whether observing or being observed, benefit from the process.’ (University of Northampton Code of Practice – Peer and Collaborative Observation for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, p.2)

Peer and Collaborative Observation of Learning and Teaching is part of the University’s CPD Framework for staff involved in teaching and supporting learning, C@N-DO. The focus of collaborative observation activities within the scheme is developmental enhancement.

The underpinning principle is that both the person observing, (the observer) and the person being observed (the observee) can benefit from the process and the aim is to provide opportunities for staff to collaborate in reflection, discussion and further development of their professional practice.

How does the Peer Observation process work?

The Northampton approach has been described as offering lots of flexibility of focus, but does assume the formality of a Three-Step process, recognising that to really meet the enhancement objectives, some formal discussion of observation goals, context, teaching aims, teaching and observation methods and observer objectivity is required, both before and after the actual observation.

There are forms to support this process and you should expect to follow these steps:
Step 1 – Preparation for Observation

  • Consider what you would like to learn and explore through observation (see p.1 of the forms).
  • Decide who to work with and whether you will be observed or be the observer.
  • Hold a Pre-Observation Meeting to discuss the learning goals of observer and observee, i.e. the agenda, exchange information about the observation context (see p.2 of the forms) and arrange the observation itself.

Step 2 – Observe

  • The Observation takes place – the observer focuses on the agreed agenda and takes notes (see example formats for feedback on p.3 of the forms).

Step 3 – Discussion and Action Planning

  • Hold a Post-Observation Meeting to discuss what was observed in relation to the learning goals, or agenda, agreed at the start. You will also probably discuss related aspects of learning and teaching.
  • Decide what actions you will each take as a result of the learning from the observation (see p.4 of the forms). This may include things you will ‘start’, ‘stop’ and ‘continue’ doing.
Diagram of the 3 Stages of the Peer Observation Process
Accessible version of the 3 Stages – Peer Observation Process diagram – Voiceover (mp4)

What aspects of my practice can be observed?

The Peer and Collaborative Observation of Learning and Teaching process is not limited to teaching in the classroom but may also embrace online activities, supervision, field work, tutorial groups, written feedback to students and clarity of assessment tasks. Support is available to help you think creatively about how the concept of ‘observation’ can be expanded to facilitate peer support to enhance the full range of your activities in teaching and supporting learning.

Who should observe me?

You can choose! The process should involve pairs or groups of up to four members, which may be formed either within or beyond departmental and disciplinary boundaries. You are responsible for identifying who you will work with. The only restriction is that you should engage with different people in consecutive years, in order to maximise the scope for development and enhancement through a breadth of the shared experience.

How often should I take part?

The University of Northampton Code of Practice says that all staff whose annual teaching or supporting learning load exceeds 20 contact hours per year are expected to participate in the scheme: as part of their development towards recognition or maintenance of good standing as Fellows of the HEA and learning gained from participation will be noted as part of the annual PDR process.

The expectations are that:

  • each full-time member of staff will participate in the scheme, as observer or observee, a minimum of once in each academic year.
  • each part-time member of staff will participate in the scheme in accordance with a schedule agreed with their head of department/line manager and which reflects the extent of their teaching commitment.
  • all staff have their practice observed no less than once in every two years.

Do I need to tell the students about the observation?

Ethical practice requires that the rights of both staff and students are respected in any observation activity; observer and observee should negotiate the context of observation as part of the preparatory discussion, and students should be informed when observation is taking place; with respect to 1:1 teaching (for example tutorials), consent of students must be sought in advance.

What records should be kept?

Each participating member of staff is responsible for including a record of learning and development gained through engagement in the Collaborative Observation for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching process within their annual PDR submission. You control what you feed into your PDR in this way.

What documents support the process?

Do you need more support for Collaborative Observations?

Peer Observation to Enhance your Teaching – in a classroom or online