Source: Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 58:1, 36-46
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The authors report on a pilot study that used a combination of video-recorded observation, student feedback, self-reflection, and peer mentoring to support the academic development of 12 tutors at a New Zealand university.
This study sought to enhance tutors’ teaching through video-reflection, informal student feedback, and formative, constructive, and non-judgemental collegial conversations with peer tutor-mentors.
The study framework was grounded in peer observation and mentoring literature, particularly around the notion that peer observation should be collaborative, to develop and disseminate good practice (Gosling, 2002), rather than an evaluative process for institutional quality assurance purposes.
The tutors taught in a range of disciplines and included first-time tutors and tutors with up to three years of teaching experience.
Similarly, the mentors (who were tutors themselves) were from multiple disciplines and had up to nine years of teaching experience.
The mentors had no previous relationships with their tutor mentees and were new to the role of mentor.
In this study, the tutors and mentors were matched based on different disciplines; allowing the focus of video reflections and dialogue to remain on the process of teaching rather than content knowledge (Torres, Lopes, Valente, & Mouraz, 2017).
The authors provided all participants with an information pack describing the observation and mentoring process and with guidelines for video reflection and annotation.
The peer tutor mentoring process includes five stages:
(1) a pre-observation meeting to determine the focus for enhancement,
(2) gathering informal written student feedback,
(3) video-recorded observation,
(4) a post-observation meeting, and
(5) feedback to the students. Informal student feedback was used to provide additional insight into the tutors’ teaching practice and complement the video observations.
After reviewing and annotating their videos, the tutors met with their mentor to view the video jointly and discuss their observations.
The final stage included tutors providing feedback to the students on the changes they proposed to make to their teaching practice.
Data included audio recordings of the pre- and post-observation meetings between mentors and tutors, and focus group discussions with mentors and tutors, separately.
The data were thematically analysed, initially individually by the first two authors, and subsequently collaboratively, using Thomas’s general inductive approach (Thomas, 2006).
Many of the tutors felt they were not well supported in their role and were thus grateful for feedback which was targeted, individualised and framed as ‘enhancement’ rather than ‘quality control’.
Consequently, the mentors and tutors were very enthusiastic about the project and the benefits that ensued.
The authors identified four key benefits for tutors who participated in this academic development project.
They include enhanced self-reflection, collegiality, increased confidence in teaching ability, and positive outcomes for their students’ learning.
The findings highlight the strength in combining annotated video observation, mentoring, and informal student feedback for providing contextualised and personalised academic development to tutors.
At the conclusion of the programme, the authors conducted focus group discussions with the tutors and mentors separately.
They sought to gain their perspective on the programme and any suggestions for improvement.
They remarked that gaining informal student feedback was extremely valuable and were surprised this approach had not been suggested to them previously.
They also added that the video observations combined with peer mentoring provided a nuanced understanding of their teaching practice.
Additionally, the pre-observation discussions between mentors and their tutors revealed that new tutors struggled to identify their strengths and weaknesses.
Participation in the programme was voluntary for the tutors.
The participating tutors argued this was an important factor because they believed tutors would, therefore, enroll in the programme for the ‘right reasons’.
In other words, they believed that if tutors were paid for their time to participate in the programme, then they may not genuinely seek to enhance their teaching.
The research team, however, feels strongly that all staff should be compensated for their time involved in professional/academic development if this is an expectation of the institution.
The authors’ peer mentoring and video observation framework addresses the shortcomings of generic workshops by providing pragmatic and individualised tutor development.
Their approach was not expensive, time consuming or difficult to implement.
Furthermore, using peers removed the power differential inherent in having feedback provided by staff responsible for employment.
Finally, the peer mentors from different disciplines ensured the feedback was focused on the specific teaching needs of the tutors rather than subject content knowledge.
Despite some initial challenges around scheduling of meetings and a lack of familiarity with different teaching contexts, once these were addressed, all the tutors reported benefits from participating in the programme.
The tutors stated the use of video provided insights and contextualised feedback on their teaching by ‘seeing the tutorial through the eyes of students’.
Through collegial conversations with mentors, tutors were able to identify areas for enhancement and gained the confidence to try new teaching approaches.
The combination of videorecorded observations and reflection paired with peer mentoring and student feedback provides tutors with contextual, relevant, and individualised professional development.
Moreover, this model of teaching development is transferable to a variety of post-compulsory teaching environments, allowing new and experienced teachers to enhance their teaching through collegial support and self-reflection.
Gosling, D. (2002). Models of peer observation of teaching. Generic Centre: Learning and Teaching Support Network. Retrieved, 8(10), 08.
Thomas, D. (2006). A general inductive approach for analyzing qualitative evaluation data. American Journal of Evaluation, 27(2), 237–246.
Torres, A., Lopes, A., Valente, J., & Mouraz, A. (2017). What catches the eye in class observation? Observers’ perspectives in a multidisciplinary peer observation of teaching program. Teaching in Higher Education, 22, 822–838.