Peer observations, reflective practice, development of teaching and learning.

In this blog I share how peer observation contributed to the development of my teaching practice in small group classes at Bristol. I discuss changes I brought to my teaching following these observations, the way they fed into student’s learning experience and their evaluation of my teaching a year later.

teacher proctoring his students during an examination

Peer review is the process of assessing and assisting teaching where a university lecturer or class tutor is observed by a colleague with the purpose of offering feedback for further development. Peer observation became widespread in higher education and in the UK peer review has been a response to QAA subject review (Lomas and Nicholls (2005)).

The authors identify peer observation as a quality enhancement tool than a quality assurance mechanism that contributes to continued professional development of lecturers. Peer observation offers a rare opportunity to the observer to view what students actually do in a classroom and the actions of their teacher (Shortland 2004) and getting this view of teaching through students’ eyes acts as a key motivator for teachers to adopt new strategies (Hendry et. al. 2021). Peer observation promotes collegiality and scholarly approach to teaching and diminishes pedagogical solitude in the teaching profession (Torres et. al. 2017).

In a study evaluating the effectiveness of peer observation in tutor development, Bell, and Mladenovic (2015) describe that in a supportive environment peer review benefits teachers in ways like enhancing their commitment to teaching, developing confidence, confirming good practice, raising awareness of student learning experiences, improving feedback skills, changing educational perspectives. The situated aspect of peer observation is important as tutors can view how their colleagues teach using similar content as they do. The authors highlight how peer observation encourages reflective practice by making tutors more conscious of their teaching thereby leading them to implement methods to improve their tutorials. Further, they find evidence how peer observation by making teachers more conscious of student needs shifts focus away from teachers and their teaching strategies to students and their learning. Bell, Mladenovic and Segara (2010) investigating reflective practice among tutors (by reviewing tutor comments regarding peer observation) find that through observing colleagues teachers learn about various aspects that are key to teaching tutorials like making good use of visual aids, balancing friendliness, and approachability with authority, integrating tutorials with the unit. Upon receiving peer feedback tutors get ideas how to engage students better, learn about weaknesses in their teaching style, realise the significance of active presence in large groups. La Lopa (2012) notes that peer review informs teachers about aspects of teaching that peers are better qualified at evaluating. These studies highlight how peer review is important in improving teaching quality and in enhancing student learning experience.

In 2017-18, as a departmental initiative my senior colleague observed me in a small group class session of a second-year undergraduate optional unit in Economics. This was my first peer observation. Before the review we discussed my plan for the session and particular areas of feedback I was interested in.  I was looking for feedback regarding student engagement with group work.

In the unit, problem set questions were shared with students before the class, and they were expected to come prepared with the solutions. The aim was to work on these problems, discuss and share solutions in class. Students were familiar with economic models used in the problem set and the questions were further applications of the respective models.

In class, we devoted 5-6 minutes on each question where students worked in groups solving the question or discussing their prepared solution. I moved around observing students working on the problem, responding to individual questions before showing the solution on whiteboard.

Following the class, I received detailed feedback on my teaching. My observer noted that I was friendly, approachable, engaging well, and confident about presenting the material. One way my session could be improved was through setting an overall framing and contextualising questions within the overarching narrative. Group work could be made more effective by asking strong students to explain advanced questions to weaker students (through giving them new tasks when they have achieved what was expected). Observing student behaviour, my colleague found that while most students engaged with group work at start, some lost interest later on (looked at phones, talked about other things) and suggested this could be addressed by intellectually pushing students to thinking about questions more deeply thereby using the small group environment in meeting different student needs with different treatments. Additionally, it was noted that the execution of the session could be improved through using PPT slides. The peer observation helped me to view my teaching critically, reflect on my practice and initiate changes.

I implemented changes to my teaching on the unit next year (2018-19). I began using PPT slides presenting both the question and solutions on screen compared to using whiteboard. I used graphs and data to complement theory with evidence where possible and contextualised questions within a narrative. I let students work individually on questions, provided individual feedback, and discussed the solutions at the end.

When reviewing student evaluation scores at the end of the teaching term and comparing them before/after, I found that overall satisfaction with my teaching on this unit increased from (4.00/5.00) in 2017-18 to (4.50/5.00) in 2018-19. Scores on questions like the tutor’s ability to make the subject more interesting increased from (3.55/5.00) in 2017-18 to (4.25/5.00) in 2018-19.

This increase in student satisfaction with their learning can be attributed to changes I made following my peer observation. Inputs from my peer, an experienced academic made difference to my teaching practice that helped to improve student learning experience.

I have engaged with further observations in the following years. Conversations about teaching with my colleagues have contributed to my professional development and I find peer observation as a vital source for reflection and development of teaching practice.


Bell, A., Mladenovic, R., Segara, R., 2010, ‘Supporting the reflective practice of tutors: what do tutors reflect on?’, Teaching in Higher Education, 15(1), pp. 57–70.

Bell, A. & Mladenovic, R., 2015, ‘Situated learning, reflective practice and conceptual expansion: effective peer observation for tutor development’, Teaching in Higher Education, 20(1), pp. 24–36.

Hendry, G.D., Georgiou, H., Lloyd, H., Tzioumis, V., Herkes, S., Sharma, M.D., 2021, ‘’It’s hard to grow when you’re stuck on your own’: enhancing teaching through a peer observation and review of teaching program’, International Journal for Academic Development, 26(1), pp. 54–68.

La Lopa, J., 2012, ‘A scholarly approach to a peer review of teaching’, Journal of Culinary Science & Technology, 10(4), pp. 352–364.

Lomas, L. & Nicholls, G., 2005, ‘Enhancing teaching quality through peer review of teaching’, Quality in Higher Education, 11(2), pp. 137–149.

Shortland, S., 2004, ‘Peer observation: a tool for staff development or compliance?’, Journal of Further & Higher Education, 28(2), pp. 219–228.

Torres, A.C., Lopes, H., Lloyd, H., Valente, J.M.S., Mouraz, A., 2017, ‘What catches the eye in class observation? Observer’s perspectives in a multidisciplinary peer observation of teaching program’, Teaching in Higher Education, 22(7), pp. 822–838.

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