Observation refers to the systematic examination of classroom instruction with the goal of identifying instructional needs/challenges or evaluating instructional practice. Observations typically incorporate a prescribed protocol containing specific measures of observable behavior and the narrative recording of the instruction and its context. Types of observational approaches include: check lists, scaled ratings, interval observations, and narrative comments. [more about types]
Suggested uses of observation:
- Observation is especially useful when combined with the examination of course materials (document analysis).
- Gaining insight by describing instructional activities or identifying needs or challenges in the classroom or program.
- Assessing changes in instructional practice especially when used as part of a single-group experiment.
- Developing ideas for future assessment by using observational data to help focus other assessment instruments such as surveys.
Limitations of observation:
- Not suitable for a summative evaluation of an instructor's teaching unless designed for that purpose according to officially approved criteria.
- Largely descriptive.
Implementing this method requires moderate resources: developing an observational protocol, hiring an experienced assistant or finding a colleague to conduct multiple observations, taking the time to discuss each observation with the observer, and compiling and analyzing the data gathered. [more]
Plan your observation
STEP 1. Describe the context
Include the age, majors, educational background, motivation level, and skill levels of students. Also consider central goals of the course, your ability to implement changes, and how the instructional setting impacts your course. A worksheet is available to help you document your instructional context.
STEP 2. Identify stakeholder needs and develop central questions
Identify what is most essential for students, your needs, and any organizational priorities that impact your course. Central questions , informed by these needs, specify what you want to learn from an assessment. For example, "Are students effectively using online technology in my course?" A worksheet is available to help you identify stakeholder needs and develop central questions.
STEP 3. Determine the purpose of the observation
Your observational study should have a clear purpose and focus. Using your central questions as a guide, specify how your observation will help you gain insight, change course practices, or measure the effects of a change you have implemented. A worksheet is available to help you develop and refine your study’s purposes.
STEP 4. Determine how you will use the results
How you intend to use results should also guide the focus of your observations. Focus observations on only those aspects of instruction that you are willing to adjust or change. A worksheet is available to help exemplify how to use results after determining the purpose of a study.
STEP 5. Develop an observation form
Create an observation form appropriate to context, purpose, and use that will answer your central questions. Refer to the teaching assessment planning process for additional help in developing your form.
Once complete, ask a colleague or evaluator to observe your course multiple times. Meet with the observer prior to the observation and provide him/her with relevant course materials (e.g., syllabus assignments), information about the instructional context, the instructional plan for the class being observed, the focus of your assessment, and what you hope to gain from it.
Center for Teaching Excellence. (undated) Preparing for Peer Observation in, TX: The University of Texas at Austin.
Chism, N.V.N. (1999). Peer Review of Teaching: A Sourcebook. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Co., Inc.