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Teaching Tips: Peer Observations and Teaching Reflections

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Dear Colleagues,

I hope you are all healthy and adapting as best you can to our new normal. Many of us have recently spent time restructuring our courses (as well as our daily routines), and perhaps that has focused our thoughts on what really matters. Self-reflecting on our teaching can be a very powerful tool for identifying challenges, sparking innovation, and taking time to acknowledge what we are doing well.

Recently, the College of Natural Sciences made Teaching Reflections a component of the annual review process.  A teaching reflection can be minimal - a paragraph summary on how the semester went and things you’d like to try out next time you teach the course. Alternatively, a teaching reflection can be more substantial: identifying specific challenges, how you’ve met them, what could be improved and a plan for implementing best practices. It’s important to keep in mind that a Teaching Reflection is a learning opportunity and a space set aside for you to connect with what’s most important to your teaching. This semester, I might see if there’s an online technology I’m using now that could improve student learning in a typical ‘in-person’ course. I find it particularly helpful to go back to my end-of-semester teaching reflections before I teach the course again to remind myself of things I want to try or do differently. If you’re interested, check out this helpful resource for more ideas about Reflective Teaching.

Teaching Reflections go hand-in-hand with Peer Observations.  In a Peer Observation, faculty may visit a colleague’s class to get ideas, see a teaching technique implemented, and share observations in a collegial exchange. Examples of large scale opportunities for peer observation are Eyes on Teaching (in February) and CNS’ Teaching Discovery Day (in September). Other colleges and departments may have their own version of these events, but you don’t have to wait. Ask a colleague you admire if you may sit in on their course (or Zoom session, as the case may be!) and see what you learn. How wonderful if we could create a teaching culture wherein visiting a colleague’s class isn’t viewed as an evaluative or anxiety-inducing event, but an opportunity to share ideas and learn from one another! If there’s one silver lining to this pandemic, it may be the realization that we’re all in this together. 

In this Teaching Tip, I’ve focused on Teaching Reflection and Peer Observation, rather than Peer Evaluation, but done well, Evaluations may be just as collegial and informative. Check out the FIC/PTF’s article and videos on Peer Review.

Even though the close of Spring semester has been anything but normal, I hope you find time to reflect on your teaching in whatever way suits your needs. Please take good care of yourself and those around you. (For ideas on creating space in your course to reflect on the current situation, try Giving Care by Talking about Care.)

Thank you for your comments on the Teaching Tips this year.  I hope to see you back on campus in the Fall - until then, wishing you good health.

 

Warmly,

Jen Moon

Chair-Elect, Provost's Teaching Fellows | Dr. Jen Moon (she/her/hers) | Associate Professor of Instruction | Department of Molecular Biosciences | Assistant Dean for Non Tenure Track Faculty | College of Natural Sciences | Provost’s Teaching Fellow | The University of Texas at Austin NMS 2.104 | 512-232-4011