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Collaborative Observation On-Line (COOL): Addressing under-exploitation of the potential of Technology Supported Learning (TSL)

0085 ALTC 2009 Shirley Bennett, Patrick Lynch, Sue Lee

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The Cloudworks Team
24 August 2009

ALT-C 2009 Session: This Cloud has been set up to aggregate live blogs, comments, discussion and links for this session.

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The session was led by Shirley Bennett, Patrick Lynch (both of Hull University) and Sue Lee from the University of Staffordshire. The aims of the session were to provide an opportunity for us to discuss the processes developed by Hull University and the University of Staffordshire in supporting peer observation, especially of on-line learning and teaching. My notes of this session:

The team defined peer mentoring as:

  • a 2 -way process
  • a quality assurance process
  • minimum of once a year
  • negotiated contract

They used Gosling (2002) Models of Peer Observation in Teaching and Learning to frame their work, arguing that the Peer Review model was the most appropriate. I was particularly interested in their identification of the power distributions in each  of these models:

Evaluation (or Management) Model            Power one way

Development Model                                       Expertise one way

Peer Review Model                                        Equality/ mutuality, 2-way dialogue for learning

They referered to MaMahon, Barrett and O'Neill  who argue that a key factor in 'differentiatiating systems of third-party observation is whether or not the person being observed has full control over what happens to information about the observation' (2007:505) and refered to their 7 principles or criteria for what the observee should have control over:

  • Participation
  • Choice of observer
  • Focus of observation
  • Form of feedback
  • Information flow
  • Future action

The team used a variation of the think-pair-share activity structure. The first activity was aimed at setting the broad focus and asked us to first work alone on, and then share with one other person,  the following question:

1. Define your goals in your use of the VLE to support students learning. Are they being achieved?

We were then asked to define an area of personal focus:

2. Are there aspects of the online materials and/ or site design that you would like to investigate or reflect on further?

We then worked in a small group to identify the challenges/ opportunities that Collaborative Observation On-line (COOL) presents.

We shared our small group discussions with the whole group and the team summarised these. In doing so they suggested a further model of peer observation the 'Apprenticeship' model which seemed to me to take us back to something closer to the 'Development' model identified by Gosling but with a clearer contract negotiated (around the 7 points highlighted by McMahon) to help overcome power inequalities of an expert/ inexpert collaboration.





Rebecca Galley
13:55 on 14 September 2009 (Edited 10:32 on 21 September 2009)

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Rebecca Galley
2:11pm 14 September 2009

I was really interested to see how the project moved from, and between, a Development and Peer Review model of peer mentoring - this seems to be an appropriate way of ensuring that best practice can be shared with less experienced staff, while still offering experienced staff an opportunity to reflect on, evaluate and move forward their own practice. This is a really complex balance to maintain and relies greatly on clarity around the relationships, responsibility and results of the mentoring. The McMahon et al list of factors an observee needs to keep control of is especially useful.

Shirley Bennett
3:35pm 18 September 2009

Thanks for posting these notes, Rebecca - it is interesting to see what came across from the way we approached the topic.  :-)

For me too, one of the interesting things to emerge in the course of our work so far has been the different motivations participants have had for choosing to engage in peer observation of their online practice.  Our own intention was, and is, firmly grounded in peer support or mentoring as a process for for Quality Enhancement rather than Quality Assurance, leading us to develop the approach very much along the lines of Gosling's third, Peer Review, model.  The approach adopted remains very much aligned with this model (e.g. a form of negotiated contract is used in all instances), but participants' motivations for engagement, and what they wanted to get out of the process, often has more in common with informal variants of the  purposes/aims Gosling cites as for the first, Evaluation (or Management), Model and second, Development, Model.  What I mean is that those choosing to engage and BE observed, were often seeking either a form of evaluative confirmation that their online practice was appropriate or a form of developmental support to improve aspects of their practice causing them concern. I suppose, in this way, the questions of "power" indicated by Gosling for his 3 models, become less of an issue as the observee is empowered and chooses to grant the observer the "power" to comment on their practice.

I notice you are with the OU.  Do you have some sort of similar process in place with regard, for example, to tutors' online studient support or facilitation of discussion on OU courses making use of Moodle?


Rebecca Galley
10:30am 21 September 2009

Interesting, yes so the key is the negotiated contract and subsequest relationship rather than the model specified by the institution?

I am new to the OU so will have to go away and find out about the the review process for associate lecturers - a good question... R

Shirley Bennett
10:12am 29 September 2009

I think we see the key thing as raising awareness of the possibility of taking peer observation online as a means of personal development and broadening of understanding of different approaches to online learning and teaching.  Within this, yes, the negotiation as to the focus and nature of the observation and the arrangements between observer and observee is an important aspect of ensuring the process is non-threatening and targetted at quality enhancement and development.  However, negotiation is, in some places (such as many departments in Hull) an established part of the standard peer observation processes, so there will be variation in how novel the negotiated contract itself feels.

Did you manage to find out anything about practices in the OU?


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