PEER OBSERVATION OF TEACHING IN A LIBRARY SETTING. A PILOT STUDY
This paper explores participant perceptions of the impact of a Peer Observation of Teaching scheme offered to teaching librarians at Linköping University library.
Information literacy sessions or support are offered to almost all students in all courses at Linköping University. Instructional duties have become a common expectation for librarians working in academic libraries. As a teaching librarian you normally divide your time between reference services, collection development and information literacy instruction. But without little formal training in the teaching role you can become very insecure. It’s not uncommon that you feel left alone especially in the support of continuing professional development. Therefore it’s necessary for academic librarians to talk and reflect about their teaching. Peer observation through critical friends is one way to demonstrate that we are reflecting on the quality of our teaching, learning and assessment practices. The relationship between critical friends is one that encourages and cultivates constructive critique. But it’s important that the main conditions exists, besides the obvious trust and commitment, namely to have knowledge of the context of the teaching environment. The librarians at Linköping University teach the “same” students and face the same challenges.
In preparation for the introduction of a peer observation of teaching scheme, a seminar was offered to staff. Our hope was that the librarians involved could see that this initiative could lead to professional development that improves both teaching practices and hopefully also student performance. Many senior librarians are themselves, experienced, effective teachers and therefore, they were likely to be competent observers of various aspects of the teaching conducted at the library. The librarian requesting observation met the observing librarian to discuss the objectives of the observation. A limited number of focused objectives was chosen that could address specific items on which the librarian desired feedback. The observing librarian attended the library session and took notes on the session with the objectives in mind.
We assessed the effort by using two types of data collection tools, a questionnaire and semi-structured interviews. The latter were used to add depth and quality of the data collected in the questionnaire. Information was collected from all participants. The questionnaire consisted of closed questions to gain relevant factual data. A pilot questionnaire was answered and assessed by two critical friends ensuring that the questions were clear and valid.
The preliminary results indicated that most of the participants were satisfied with the possibility to be able to self-reflect on how this process positively can impact their teaching skills. The peer observation process seemed to provide both the observee and the observer with the opportunity to mutually enhance the quality of their teaching practice. It also provided an opportunity to disseminate good practice amongst colleagues by sharing thoughts on teaching practice and supporting each other’s development of teaching skills.
This process was not about getting everyone to teach in the same way, it was about helping individuals to reflect on and evaluate their own approach to teaching. It was expected that both parties in the observation would benefit from the discussions arising.