Editor’s note: Thank you to Laura and Felice for their timely blog. This entry sets the stage for two upcoming related faculty development opportunities across campus, (I C TEACHING : THREE DAYS OF TEACHING VISITS and the TEACHING CONVERSATION SERIES). On October 1st, 2nd, 3rd, The Center for Faculty Excellence offers I C TEACHING: THREE DAYS OF TEACHING VISITS. Nine generous faculty will open their doors to peer observers. Too often in higher education, instructors do not have the opportunity to watch and discuss each other’s teaching, and therefore we struggle in what Lee Shulman has called, “pedagogical solitude.” The Center for Faculty Excellence has worked hard to change this isolation by creating occasions for pedagogical community. These classroom observations provide an opportunity for real-world observations and to self-reflect about the pedagogical choices we make as instructors. Observers can ask themselves, “What did I realize about my own teaching by watching someone else? How did the observation affirm what I do or open a new door to something I want to change?” The TEACHING CONVERSATION SERIES kick off is September 17 and September 27, featuring the Power of Observation, (why, what, and how to observe?). Watch for notices and follow the EVENTS at the Center for Faculty website to see when your six faculty colleagues will host an informal hour of discussion regarding their ideas about teaching throughout the semester. But for now, let Laura and Felice share their thoughts about peer observations….
Interdisciplinary Peer Observation as a Tool for Reflection & Growth
During the winter of 2017, we joined the year-long Early Career Excellence Institute (ECEI) sponsored by the Center for Faculty Excellence. Honestly, we were not quite sure what to expect. As part of an interdisciplinary group of fifteen faculty from across Ithaca College (IC), we both questioned what the outcomes of this experience would be for our teaching. As it turned out, the ECEI was a meaningful professional learning experience that stretched our thinking and helped us to both reflect and consider our teaching.
During the course of the ECEI, we spent time learning about general course design and active learning strategies, framed by the shared reading of L. Dee Fink’s book, Creating Significant Learning Experiences (2013). Fink (2013) proposes a taxonomy of significant learning, detailing integrated dimensions of student learning to address through course design. These include foundational knowledge, application, integration, human dimension (learning about oneself and others), caring, and learning how to learn.
While our fifteen peers set individual goals for themselves, specifically, we wanted to unpack how experiencing similar active learning strategies and supporting student resilience (i.e. Fink) across departments and IC courses could support students’ expectations and engagement.
One experience, in particular, that focused our attention both inside and outside of our own teaching was the opportunity for reciprocal teaching observations. While we all have occasions for peer evaluation of teaching during the tenure and promotion process, what made the ECEI reciprocal observations unique was that they were not evaluative or supervisory. The goal of the reciprocal observations was to:
…enable ECEI members to learn from each other…share goals and work-in-progress, discuss concerns and strategies, and gain new ideas and techniques for classroom teaching. This program is formative, not evaluative. (ECEI, 2017)
There is growing evidence in the field of K-12 teacher leadership and professional learning that peer support for teaching, when it is not evaluative, can positively influence instructional outcomes (Mangin & Stoelinga, 2010). Not only that, we ended up doing observations in fields of study completely unlike our own. From Russell’s own research on K-12 teachers’ professional learning, we know that opportunities for collaboration on instructional strategies across content areas to support diverse student learning across a school can have favorable results (2012). In preparation to visit one another, we discussed our hopes and purposes.
We landed on the following reflective questions and considerations:
- We wondered what our interdisciplinary peer observations might provide us with in terms of our own professional growth?
- We wanted to understand how supporting student learning across departments and courses with common instructional strategies, based on active learning theory (Fink, 2013), could help support IC students’ academic success.
- We wanted to know more about the methods that we were each employing in our teaching.
Stay tuned for Part Two, where we discuss our combined reflections on the peer observation experience.