Observation

A focused and purposeful inquiry into observable individual and group behaviors in a specific class to help instructor and observer think about teaching and learning from a different perspective.  Observation requires a high degree of observer awareness; its focus is what actually happens in the classroom between teacher, students, and course materials and content. 

We emphasize the need to focus observations because classrooms are complex and marked by simultaneous interactions and activities of students, instructors, and knowledge—all set within university, college, school, and departmental policies and requirements.   No one can see everything in a classroom.  The observation views teaching and learning through the lens of shared criteria for good teaching and learning that the department has determined.  More specifically, it highlights specific criteria that the instructor has identified as areas of particular interest in the pre-observation conversation.  The observer helps the instructor by gathering more and richer information on these areas than he or she can obtain while teaching.    

How can we structure the observation? 

The observation provides an opportunity to capture concrete and specific information and data about what is happening in the classroom in order to provide useful and effective feedback to the instructor.  The observer arrives before class begins to record the physical environment, including the configuration of seats and students.  Once the class begins, it is also helpful to write the beginning and end times of various activities within your field notes [Example of Field Notes].  A class is often composed of episodes, that is, a series of learning opportunities or activities that take place during a class.  Recording times can help organize initial notes to create a picture of these episodes and provide information on time spent on particular work or the number of times a specific action occurs.  Learn More

What can we do with the various forms of information?  

A short time after the in-class observation, the observer can organize the rough notes and look more closely for any teaching and learning patterns [Example of Episodic Notes].  This review provides an opportunity to create a narrative of what happened during the class using specific information captured during note-taking.   The observer can also review the various information collected during the observation process to deepen understandings of teaching and learning in the class and to inform the post-observation conversation between instructor and observer.  This synthesis allows the observer to make connections among the various pieces of information collected up to this point in the peer review process [Sample Synthesis of Peer Observation].  Departmental criteria for good teaching and learning, particularly those identified by the instructor as of particular interest, provide a useful frame for organizing this part of the process [Sample Classroom Observation Form]. Depending on departmental policies and purposes, this review should result in a written report that summarizes the observation process . Learn More

Next: Post-Observation

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