Online peer observation: its value in teacher professional development, support and well-being

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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [Staffordshire University]On: 05 October 2014, At: 08:02Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK</p><p>International Journal for AcademicDevelopmentPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rija20</p><p>Online peer observation: its value inteacher professional development,support and well-beingFelicity Harper a &amp; Margaret Nicolson ba Languages , Open University in the South West , Bristol , UKb Faculty of Education and Language Studies, Open University ,Edinburgh , UKPublished online: 21 May 2012.</p><p>To cite this article: Felicity Harper &amp; Margaret Nicolson (2013) Online peer observation: its valuein teacher professional development, support and well-being, International Journal for AcademicDevelopment, 18:3, 264-275, DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2012.682159</p><p>To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1360144X.2012.682159</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Taylor &amp; Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (theContent) contained in the publications on our platform. 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Terms &amp;</p><p>http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rija20http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1080/1360144X.2012.682159http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1360144X.2012.682159</p></li><li><p>Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Staf</p><p>ford</p><p>shir</p><p>e U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 08:</p><p>02 0</p><p>5 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p><p>http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions</p></li><li><p>Online peer observation: its value in teacher professionaldevelopment, support and well-being</p><p>Felicity Harpera and Margaret Nicolsonb*</p><p>aLanguages, Open University in the South West, Bristol, UK; bFaculty of Education andLanguage Studies, Open University, Edinburgh, UK</p><p>(Received 14 September 2011; final version received 20 March 2012)</p><p>This article discusses an online peer observation project conceived to enhancelanguage-teacher positivity and creativity in synchronous virtual classrooms.Participants worked part-time at the UKs Open University (OU) in a blendedcontext and came from two different groups distant from each other andgeographically dispersed within their own group. As a result of the project,participants perceived an increase in their confidence and greater willingness toexperiment. They appreciated better how they fitted into the wider OU teachingcommunity, built new professional friendships and flexible communities ofpractice, and developed a better understanding of how to progress their ownself-development.</p><p>Keywords: community of practice; language-teacher development; online teach-ing; peer observation; teacher confidence</p><p>Introduction</p><p>This project arose from concerns that we, as academic leaders of language-teachingteams in the South West of England and Scotland, respectively, had shared aboutteacher development in virtual classrooms. Teaching session observations had ledus to concur that some teachers, confident and creative in face-to-face teaching,were displaying a more authoritarian, more guarded teaching persona in synchro-nous online sessions. Although potentially a developmental stage for some, otherswere establishing this as their online teaching persona per se. We wanted to re-establish their confidence and creativity.</p><p>Context is important here. Teachers at the Open University (OU) work part-time.They have contact with a geographically defined cross-language team led by anacademic manager in one of 13 locations in the UK, and with a UK-wide course-specific teaching team. Systematic contact with colleagues teaching on a differentcourse in a different location is rare. Beginning in 2002, the OU graduallyintroduced language teaching via virtual classrooms using synchronous online voiceconferencing, and since 2008 all its part-time language teachers have delivered real-time group teaching sessions via an audio web-conference tool (Elluminate Live),as one component of a blended model. Participants can speak to but not see one another and use an interactive whiteboard, text chat and breakout rooms.</p><p>*Corresponding author. Email: Margaret.Nicolson@open.ac.uk</p><p>International Journal for Academic Development, 2013Vol. 18, No. 3, 264275, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1360144X.2012.682159</p><p> 2012 Taylor &amp; Francis</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Staf</p><p>ford</p><p>shir</p><p>e U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 08:</p><p>02 0</p><p>5 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>Training had been offered via a UK-wide programme, online and face-to-face.However, because of the large number and part-time nature of staff and the rapidneed for training, development sessions had been predicated on an input modelled by expert teaching peers or teacher developers. No observation opportunitieswere included, so teachers had to try out new techniques without seeing them workin others teaching. The only professional feedback they received subsequently wasfrom academic managers, like ourselves, as part of the separate quality-assuranceobservation framework, and if their observation was due.</p><p>Cosh (1999, p. 24) suggests that, Good teachers need not only knowledge butenthusiasm, confidence, self-value, and a desire to question, experiment, and growprofessionally. This seems particularly pertinent in the online environment, wherethe range of potential interactions via various tools renders teachers engagementwith learners, more flexible, diverse and even more demanding (Gallardo,Heiser, &amp; Nicolson, 2011, p. 219). Teachers may experience technical problems orlose a sense of control over the teaching and learning process. In face-to-facesessions they have techniques to overcome difficulties, but an online tool such asElluminate requires additional strategies. Some teachers may feel they are operatingat novice level again, with the attendant insecurities this brings. Others may havedoubts about the tools validity as a teaching mode, impacting on their enthusiasmand confidence. Others may want to impose too much control while they come togrips with their own fears and insecurities.</p><p>For new teachers, observation of colleagues is often a standard part of develop-ment, but for experienced teachers, this can be rare or non-existent. Peer observa-tion allows teachers who find themselves in the position of novice again to benefitfrom exposure to varied approaches. As Donnelly (2007) points out, referring toBandura (1986), experiencing a model vicariously can improve an individuals self-efficacy, the belief that one can succeed in specific situations.</p><p>The project was initially conceived to last one year, but further funding hasallowed it to continue, and it is now entering its fourth year. This paper describesthe first two years, where the focus was on developing language teachers withintheir language-teaching community and enhancing their aspirations around teachingin virtual classrooms. (In the third year, we included teachers from another facultyand will evaluate this in a future article.) Evaluating practice change per se has notbeen part of this project, the focus being around participants perception of theirown professional growth.</p><p>Research background</p><p>Our work in teaching and learning development operates in a situated learning con-text (Lave &amp; Wenger, 1991), where social practice and dynamics are important inexamining the learning process, here in teachers professional learning. In situatedlearning, also important is the social relation between the participants (Eraut,2003, p. 56), linking to Schuck, Aubusson, and Buchanans (2008, p. 216) pointthat, emotional well being and personal relationships are essential to enhancedteaching practice.</p><p>Our beliefs about teacher development are influenced by Wengers (1998)community of practice, which enables the building of knowledge in a cogent andsupportive way amongst professionals. Peer development (PD) can be instrumentalin developing such communities, as Byrne, Brown, and Challen (2010) point out,</p><p>International Journal for Academic Development 265</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Staf</p><p>ford</p><p>shir</p><p>e U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 08:</p><p>02 0</p><p>5 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>since it relies on dialogue and emphasises collaboration. They also suggest, inaccordance with Peel (2005), that one-off observations are of little value in engen-dering communities, and that participants require active participation within a cohe-sive group to be fully engaged. We also adopted Byrne et al.s approach in creatingopportunities for focused and planned confidential conversations to foster develop-ment and encourage the sharing and understanding of problems and solutions,thereby creating the means for participants to develop as a community of practice.</p><p>Our approach to what good teaching entails is underpinned by Kumaravadivelus(1994, 2003, 2006) principled pragmatism, advocated within his post-method con-dition. Here teachers need to base their decisions on what best meets the particularityof their situation, such as group dynamics, learning needs, the prevailing institutionalframework and sociocultural milieu, not predicating their approach on a single meth-odology but drawing on what is needed to suit circumstance (2006, p. 171). This, hesuggests, requires the teacher to move towards Girouxs transformative intellectualrole and beyond that of pure technician and of Schns reflective practitioner(Kumaravadivelu, 2006).</p><p>To examine teacher positioning in the development and practice context,Kubanyiovas (2009) concept of the teacher self has also been useful. Her ought-toteacher self is that which the teacher believes the institution or manager requires;her ideal teacher self is the teachers own professional aspiration to what theirideal practice would be; and her feared teacher self is the embodiment of practiceteachers consider undesirable but might find themselves adopting. As we showbelow, the teacher self offers an interpretive framework for understanding teach-ers responses to our peer observation project.</p><p>Research on peer observation and development is also growing, with varyingmodels in operation. Research pre-2001 is perhaps less relevant to our position, for,as Swinglehurst, Russell, and Greenhalgh (2008) indicate, prior to then peer obser-vation in the UK at least was often driven by Quality Assurance Agencyrequirements as part of the academic performance-review process. Although it wasmeant to be non-judgemental, as Shortland (2010, p. 296) points out, in having toassess development needs, it inevitably acquired an evaluative base, the focus beingon observer comments on performance, rather than on true peer dialogue. In con-trast, Bennett and Barp (2008, p. 560) note that: it is when practised from a purelydevelopmental perspective, independently of quality-assurance processes, that teach-ing staff engage most enthusiastically and genuinely with peer observation.Research post-2001 is therefore more pertinent to us, particularly Gosling (2002),Donnelly (2007), Swinglehurst et al. (2008), Byrne et al. (2010) and Shortland(2010). However, our project differs from those in campus-based universities in thatour participants did not know all of their peer observation colleagues beforehand.</p><p>Gosling (2002, p. 5) offers three models of peer observation: evaluation, devel-opment and peer review. Byrne et al. (2010) add the PD model, which extendsinto observation of student support. Our project, focusing purely on teaching ses-sions, aligns best with Goslings original peer review model and we adopted anon-judgemental climate, as favoured by both Donnelly (2007) and Byrne et al.(2010). In line with Donnelly and building on Goslings aim to replace the ideaof giver and receiver or top-down model we aimed for a dialogue model inwhich both parties are regarded as equal and mutual beneficiaries of the processand an ethos that was formative, developmental, collaborative, reflective andenabling of a personal exploration of practice (2007, p. 122).</p><p>266 F. Harper and M. Nicolson</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Staf</p><p>ford</p><p>shir</p><p>e U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 08:</p><p>02 0</p><p>5 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>For groups to avoid becoming introspective, self-satisfied, and, by implication,uncritically accepting of habitual practice, Byrne et al. (2010, p. 226) suggest thatthey should be flexible and fluid. We recognised, however, that this needs to be bal-anced with sustained contact, building trust and collaboration by establishing com-munities of practice over an academic year, which may continue independentlyafterwards. Trust and cooperation are widely highlighted as important in peer obser-vation (Byrne et al., 2010; Gosling, 2002; Schuck et al., 2008; Shortland, 2010).Donnelly (2007, p. 117) also points out that the climate of peer observation shouldbe encouraging of open debate, and supportive of risk-taking.</p><p>Project framework, ethics and method</p><p>The project has operated within our unique context. Part-time staff opt intoadditional staff development opportunities over and above contract time, someunpaid, some paid. Participation in projects varies because staffing configurationschange regularly and part-time teachers have to prioritise their staff developmentchoices in any one year. Participation was therefore voluntary, aligning withKnowless (1975) assertion that a self-diagnosed need for learning is more moti-vating than an externally diagnosed requirement. Participants received a token sumto acknowledge time involved, so, whilst these teachers may have opted inbecause they recognised their own needs, we remain unsure of the impact of thesmall financial incentive.</p><p>Participants undertook a series of peer observations and discussions during theacademic year and participated in a final team review meeting. The project tookplace online through virtual classrooms, email and shared documentation. Eachteam included a mix of languages, levels and locations, and a team leader acted asfacilitator. Team leaders volunteered themselves, were colleagues of equal standingto the r...</p></li></ul>

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