Pre-observation is a two-part process consisting of...

1) closely examining the syllabus, assessments, online resources, and other materials that an instructor has organized to support student learning, and

2) engaging in purposeful conversation with the instructor to discuss class expectations and context and target possible college, school, or departmental criteria for good teaching that will be the focus of the observation.  

How can we examine course materials?

Syllabi and other course materials are important sources of information about teaching and learning in the class [Sample Syllabus Review].  Access to these materials, including online resources or the learning management system, would need to be arranged ahead of time with the instructor.  The observer reviews these materials to understand the course and provide a context for the pre-observation conversation and classroom observation in three key areas: intended goals, student learning, and teaching.  

These include:

  • What an instructor sees as the purpose of the course
  • What one expects of students
  • How the learning environment is structured
  • How students engage in learning
  • What the roles of teacher and student are

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How can we structure the pre-observation conversation?   

With the information collected in the examination of course materials, the observer can develop questions about intended goals, student learning, and teaching approaches to explore in the second part of this process, the pre-observation conversation [Sample Pre-observation Conversation Protocol].  The observer can explore the instructor’s more general views about teaching and learning and specific intentions for this course, as well as areas of particular interest.  Additionally, he or she can ask questions about the specific context of the class. 

Possible areas to explore include:

  • Targeted student learning outcomes
  • Knowledge of students
  • Teaching approaches
  • Materials and activities that students will engage in prior to the class
  • Homework or practice activities required after class assessments to determine what students are learning
  • Context of the course and program within which this class is embedded
  • Self-perceived strengths and areas for growth.

This discussion can set a collegial tone and establish the rapport, mutual trust, and respect between observer and instructor that can enrich peer observation.  Furthermore, the observer can ask the instructor questions that may have arisen from the review of course materials.  The discussion will typically flow from the ‘big picture’ issues to more detailed discussion of the learning event that will be observed. Learn More

Next: Observation