Peer Observations on PGC and ALT HE

Guidance and application. M Compton


PG CERT HE participants have to complete three Third Party Observations (TPOs) throughout the year. Programme participants note the positive value of TPOs, however some feel they would like to extend the opportunities and scope. One way we would like to accommodate this is to draw on peer observation practices (often called peer review of teaching or peer supported development in HE contexts). To that end, we are offering all participants the option of reducing the number of mentor observations to one and replacing the final one with a peer observation. (with the other being the PGCert team observation in the first term, of course).

If you would like to do this then we suggest that you organise these peer observations in pairs or trios and these MUST be reciprocal (i.e. observe one another if part of a pair) or a self contained three way process if part of a trio. All involved will usually be current PGCert HE participants.

Unfortunately we are unable to facilitate pairings; you will need to arrange this.

ALTHE participants need TWO TPOs and, if they wish, may decide to add an additional Peer Obs TPO.


You will need to:

  • Consider carefully any logistical and time issues (especially important to consider if working across faculties/ sites/ institutions or in trios (see below)
  • Make a firm committment and advise your mentor of your decision
  • Complete the form below.
  • Know that this is not about judgement and nor is it pass/ fail. This is as much about the development of those observing as it is those being observed and the paperwork is designed to reflect that.
  • Whoever your tutor is please contact Martin Compton in the first instance with queries, issues or feedback.

The Process

However you work (in pairs or trios) you will observe someone and be observed by them or the other person in a trio. The process seeks to get the most of the benefits of observational learning (cf. Albert Bandura social/ cognitive learning theory) and through 'learning conversations' (I.e. through extended discussion/ articulation we are better able to reflect and reap transformative benefits).

There is a peer observation form to use below which you will need to use and the lesson plan below is the same as the one recommended on Moodle.

Please do familiarise yourself with these documents.

Once the process is completed you will add the feedback YOU RECEIVE to your TPO document (basically all three TPOs merged into one document). You should also add the FEEDBACK YOU GIVE to your observation of others document.

Organising 'Trios'

if you choose to work as part of a three you are adding to the organisational workload but, again as research shows, increasing the collegiality, depth of engagement and (hopefully) the transformative potential of the peer observation process.

The diagrams below show how you might organise as a trio with the second model being the favoured one for increased quality of approach but also one which requires greater time commitment.

Big picture

Who benefits?

One of the first things to consider is your own mindset. When you think about who benefits (or who is supposed to benefit) from a peer observation the usual assumption is that the observee is the prime beneficiary when receiving feedback. This is unsurprising given the predominant context of classroom observations which exist to monitor performance (especially in schools and colleges) or to judge 'competence' on teacher training programmes. But, it is equally possible to value the observation process as highly for the peer observer (Bell and Mladenovic 2008). Similarly, Hendry et al. (2014) reported that being a peer observer enabled colleagues to positively change lecture and seminar practices.

In other words, this is a process that should benefit BOTH parties. To be successful, the mindset, interactions and communication need to be mutually understood and honoured.

Bell, A., & Mladenovic, R. (2008). The benefits of peer observation of teaching for tutor development. Higher Education, 55 (6), 735-752.

Hendry, G. D., Bell, A., & Thomson, K. (2014). Learning by observing a peer’s teaching situation. International Journal for Academic Development,19 (4), 318-329.

One way to look at it

In the diagram below you can see one way to represent the process.

(From the top): you first make sure you are clear about, and have a shared understanding of, the peer observation process and what its goals are. In our case it is all about a developmental mindset, developing ourselves as teachers through a shared learning process for both the observed and the observer. Next meet up (face to face if possible or via online communication or phone if not) to discuss the focal areas. These should preferably be areas that you, or others, have previously identified as aspects for development or experimentation. Then the peer observation takes place- an hour is typical but they can last longer if the context suits/ requires it. Feedback and debriefing are better if done soon after the session but it is worth making time for both the observer and the observed to reflect a little on the session. During the debrief/ feedback it is important to recall the 'mindset' and understand that the focus is on teaching, learning and assessment, and things that are possible to change rather than a focus on individual characteristics of the observee (i.e., you should be taller, thinner/fatter, etc.). Start with questions to allow the observee to reflect openly. Ensure that when giving feedback you identify the effective aspects before dealing with areas that did not work so well.

Big picture

HEA Materials

In the resource (linked below and here) the HEA have provided a wealth of information on peer observation in many of its guises and with some very sensible guidance. it's very text heavy but makes a good reference point.

What is effective teaching?

There is inevitably a lot of subjective judgement when it comes to viewing other people's sessions. What works in one setting may not be appropriate in others. BUT there are characteristics that are relatively universally agreed upon.

Here is a list of 13 characteristics of 'good teaching' (Ramsden 1992) that might help focus your feedback, especially in terms of identifying positive aspects:

· A desire to share your love of the subject

· An ability to make the material stimulating and interesting

· A facility for engaging with students at their level of understanding

· A capacity to explain the material plainly and helpfully

· A commitment to making it absolutely clear what has to be understood, at what level and why

· Showing concern and respect for students

· A commitment to encouraging student independence and experiment

· An ability to improvise and adapt to new demands

· Using teaching methods and academic tasks that require students to learn actively, responsibly and through cooperative endeavour

· Using valid and fair assessment methods

· A focus on key concepts and students’ current and future understanding of them, rather than just on covering the ground

· Giving high quality feedback on students’ work

· A desire to learn from students and others about the effects of your teaching and how it can be improved

Ramsden, P. (1992) Learning to Teach in Higher Education. London: Routledge

Contact details

The peer observation project on the PGCert He is being overseen by Martin Compton. Please contact him on or via Twitter @uogmc for clarifications, to report issues or any other queries.

Martin Compton 2017