The University’s Distance Learning Forum has partnered with the University of Waikato (New Zealand) to deliver two online peer observation programmes, which have brought together distance learning tutors and programme managers to exchange practice on digital teaching and learning methods.
Peer observation is primarily a developmental technique for the individuals involved, facilitating the sharing of impartial and objective feedback based upon actual observations of online tutoring practice. The programme supports the professional development of online tutors and their skills development, with participants owning the observation process and outcomes.
Eight York-Waikato pairings exchanged practice in 2015 with three pairings following suit in 2016, with the majority observing teaching techniques through the review of ‘live’ or archived course sites hosted within their institutional virtual learning environment.
An evaluative study of participants’ experience has now been published in Innovations in Education and Teaching International – Cross-institutional peer observation by online tutors: Sharing practice ‘outside the family’ (article link here), reporting on the outcomes from this virtual exchange.
The article explores how participants’ exposure to cross-institutional and cross-cultural diversity prompted them to reflect on their personal tutoring styles and institutional tutoring norms. Participants’ dialogue touched on practical considerations such as module site design and instructional guidance, but also extended to debate over communication style and the formality and tone of the tutor’s voice online, as part of a deeper layer of reflection on tutor identity.
Evidence from the study suggests that cross-institutional exchanges can encourage participants to reflect deeply on the cultural and institutional values influencing their tutoring practice. However, for this to happen, effective dialogue needs to be underpinned by a strong understanding of a partner’s institutional context and programme culture and this requires commitment from both partners with rapport established from the outset of the peer exchange process. Where York and Waikato tutors were successful in developing such a rapport, they used a combination of asynchronous and synchronous communication tools (e.g. appear.in and Skype) to manage the exchange of practice and critical dialogue on their tutoring approaches.
For a York tutor’s perspective on how the cross-institutional York-Waikato peer observation exchange worked, please view the short recorded talk by John Gray (Centre for Applied Human Rights and York Law School), which he gave to the Distance Learning Forum in 2015: http://tinyurl.com/John-Gray-Talk
For a narrated presentation on the key outcomes from the 2015 Waikato-York peer observation exchange, please view the following video: http://tinyurl.com/York-Waikato-peer-observation
For further information on peer observation opportunities at the University of York, please consult the dedicated web page at: https://www.york.ac.uk/staff/teaching/community/peer-support/distance-learning-observation/