Wayne's Design Narrative: The Best Laid Plans....
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15 April 2015
The best laid plans....
I was the lecturer, giving a "normal" class, with the added criteria of being peer observed for a performance review.
This took place in a traditional, tiered, classroom. The players involved in addition to myself were a class of 2nd Year students on a degree in Architectural Technology, and a colleague acting as peer observer/reviewer. The peer review was something that I had asked my colleague to do for me: there were no consequences resulting from either a good or bad review. I wanted the review for personal reasons, to get feedback and reflect on how to improve my teaching practice.
My plan was to deliver a lecture on air pollution. The students already had some knowledge of the topic in terms of regional/global air pollution, but the new information that I was presenting was the aspects relating to indoor air pollution. I drew up a lesson plan (something that I hadn't done before, at least formally, and to be honest I have not done one since!), which I shared with my colleague before the class. I was hoping that by clearly setting out what I wanted to achieve beforehand, she would be able to measure how well I had stuck to the plan. One factor that I was aware of one the day of the observations, was that there was a conference on campus which some students would be attending. Therefore, I was aware that I may not have had the usual level of attendance at the lecture.
1. I welcomed the class and show them where we were at on Moodle.
2. I asked them about how their "Project" was going for them. This opened the floor for discussion, which I had limited to 10mins maximum.
3. I outlined what we had done so far on the module and where todays lesson fit in. I outlined what we were to achieve by the end of the class.
4. I gave a presentation for about 30-40 mins and then give them a break of 10 mins. There were plenty of opportunities for them to raise queries as we went along. Two way discourse occurred to expand on some of the learning material.
5. The plan was to carry on for about a further 30-40 mins after the break.
6. I summed up, asked for closing questions, and let them know how the lesson fed into the next topic, to be discussed the following week.
I mentioned in my plan that there was a conference on the same day as the lecture. This had a bigger impact on the numbers in attendance than I had anticipated. The usual class size is around 20-25 students, but on the day of the observation there were only 5 students present. This had an effect on the way the material was delivered, in the sense that the class took on a far more “conversational” style than usual. I did stick to my plan with the exception that I did not carry on to a second half of the lecture after the break. I was conscious that the vast majority of the class was at a conference, and I did not wish to go too far ahead of them. I felt that it was only right to give the students that did turn up some benefit for doing so, and I felt that half a lecture (in terms of time) was a fair compromise. The pace of the class was as expected, and in half a lecture I managed to achieve half the list of topics.
My colleague provided a Peer Observation Report for me after the class. One comment on the report related to one student being given perhaps more time than is usual for discussion and questions. While I do not set timers for student interaction, I am always conscious of pacing the lectures to get the material covered. I think the comment on one student being given a lot of time is fair, but this particular class was unusual in that it was so poorly attended that it changed the tone of the lecture: it became far more conversational after I had made a decision to not go too far ahead with the learning material in the absence of most of the class.
The manner in which I had to change my approach to the lecture when faced with such a small group, allowed for a more discussion-based lesson, where the Observer noted that discussions were led by the students. I see this as a positive development, which happened organically due to circumstance rather than by design. Perhaps this is something that should be designed for, to some extent. The students certainly seemed to be very happy with the lecture.
Since starting to teach full time in January 2008, this exercise was the first time I had been peer observed. I found the process stimulating and informative. It focused my attention on lesson planning in a way that I had not done before, and I think that the preparation I put in at that stage helped with my confidence on the day of the observation. I found it informative in that it has given me an opportunity to work on the area of class participation: the students engaged well in conversational learning, but the Observer made a good point that this on its own has potential to get out of hand and significantly alter the outcome. Having gone through the experience, I gained an insight into how I work as a lecturer and how the group works together as a “lesson”. I recommend that all teaching staff should undergo a Peer Observation at least once, and perhaps even on an ongoing basis.