Teaching Observation by Peers (TOPs) Program

Purpose

The principal purpose of the UAMS Educators Academy peer observation program is to:

  • Provide an opportunity for UAMS faculty to participate in a voluntary, confidential and formative observation of their teaching skills.
  • Encourage reflection and development of practice, skills and understanding of teaching and learning.
  • Provide evidence for a faculty member’s journey in developing their teaching skills.

About

The observations focus on face-to-face teaching (not online) including the presentation and educational activities employed by the instructor. The instructor’s content knowledge is not assessed; therefore, peer observers will not be from the same discipline.

The observation process is based on direct interactions between the faculty member and observer, which includes confidential discussions, observation, a formal report with feedback and recommendations for the faculty and additional observation, if desired. All written materials resulting from the observation process will be given to the faculty member. Educators Academy nor the peer observer will retain copies of these materials unless requested by the faculty member. Documentation from this process may be particularly valuable as part of an educational promotion-and-tenure process and when applying for teaching awards (e.g. Chancellor’s Teaching Award).

Observation Settings

Peer observation can be requested for a variety of settings, such as classroom lectures, problem-based and solution-focused learning activities, team-based learning and ground rounds, etc. Peer observation in the clinical setting will be available in a later phase of the program.

Observation Process

Request a Peer Observation

Request an observation using the Office of Educational Development Service Request Form. An Educators Academy staff member will contact you to discuss your needs and send you a TOPs packet. A peer observer will be assigned who will conduct a pre- and post-observation meetings with the faculty member. A second peer observer will conduct the actual observation and provide additional input.

Complete and Submit the Pre-Meeting Form

The pre-meeting form is included in the TOPs packet you receive. These forms are confidential and will not be shown to a third party unless specific permission is obtained from the faculty member. Please fill in the information as requested on the pre-observation form, including the learning objectives for the educational activity to be observed. The peer observer may also request additional materials to review, for example, the syllabus, a homework assignment, or a PowerPoint lecture. The peer observer must have all materials at least one week before the scheduled pre-observation meeting.

Schedule a Pre-Observation Meeting with Peer Observer

The faculty member and peer observer will be introduced via email. All relevant forms for this process (pre-observation, in-person observation, post-observation) will be attached to that email. The faculty member and peer observer will meet for about 30-60 minutes to get to know one another and discuss the purpose and scope of the educational activity. Goals, expectations and specific areas to be observed (if any) will be discussed. This pre-meeting should occur at least three days before the actual observation, as you and the peer observer’s preparation and reflection are part of the reviewing process.

In-person Observation

The peer observer will discreetly observe you during your activity without interfering with your teaching or the learners’ responses. The faculty member is strongly encouraged to explain that they will be observed on a particular day. The peer observer will not audio or video record the session unless the faculty member requests that. However, s/he will request access to any online recording that is occurring for the students’ benefit, for example, lectures being recorded for posting on Blackboard Collaborate. Access to that recording may be useful in the post-observation meeting in order to document specific issues.

Small Group Instructional Feedback (Optional)

As part of the peer observation program, but at the discretion of the faculty member, the peer observer will conduct a focus group with the class on the day of the observation. Students, individually and in small groups, answer the following questions:

  • What is going well in this class? What aspects of your instructor’s teaching do you most appreciate or find effective?
  • What aspects of the course need improvement? What could your teacher do to increase or enhance your learning of the subject matter for the course?
  • Are there any other aspects of the course on which you would like to comment? Is there anything else you would like to share with your teacher? The responses are collated and the themes reported back to the faculty member at the post-observation meeting.

Post-Observation Meeting

A post-observation meeting lasting 45-60 minutes between the faculty member and the peer observer should also be scheduled within one week of the education activity. The peer observer will again ask for the faculty member’s impressions, and then contribute his/her observations as feedback to the discussion, share data collected during the observation and offer suggestions. The peer observer will also provide written feedback and comments. Please note that the comments and suggestions the peer observer hands you is the sole copy; be sure to maintain that for your records.

Second Observation (Optional)

If desired, a second observation may be scheduled for the peer observer to provide an additional response about changes the faculty member may have made to his/her teaching based on the initial feedback.

Participation Letter (Optional)

At your request, the Educators Academy will send you a letter thanking you for participating in the program; no feedback or recommendations will be included in this letter.

Complete a Survey

Feedback from faculty members using the TOPs program is an essential part of the Educators Academy quality improvement process.  Participants will be asked to complete a brief, anonymous survey on the quality and utility of the observation and the peer observer. Survey data will be seen by only Educators Academy staff and not by the peer observer so the evaluations are completely confidential in that regard; any reports of the data will be in aggregate and used only for program improvement.

Key Points to Keep in Mind

  • Faculty members may disengage from the Observing process at any time without explanation.
  • For program evaluation purposes, the Educators Academy will maintain records of the number of requests received for teaching observation and the number of completions. We will not retain any additional information in our records and the peer observers will also delete their reports from their computers. Because the Educators Academy will not keep copies of the peer observer’s report or the requested participation letter, the faculty member will need to do so.
  • The Educators Academy requests all faculty members to sign a Memorandum of Understanding that outlines the process and everyone’s role within that process. Optionally, faculty members may grant permission for the Educators Academy to retain de-identified data for aggregate publication.