The OU centre for STEM pedagogy
This project captured and identified the practice of tutorial observations from two different perspectives: the perspective of the distance learning tutor, and the perspective of their manager or staff tutor. The project has a number of closely linked objectives: it aims to understand what happens during a tutorial or class observation; understand what good observation feedback is; what considerations need to be made regarding the observation of online tutorials; how to observe team teaching and offer feedback that is appropriate and useful for lecturers; how to best influence and develop teaching practice; to understand attitudes of different groups of staff across the university.
The project began with a literature review. Fifty nine publications were identified. These included journals, books, and professional development conferences. Following the literature review, two categories of focus groups were organised: one for associate lecturers who are observed, and another for the academic managers who regularly carry out observations (known as staff tutors). Two focus groups were run at an associate lecturer development conference in May 2017 involving up to 30 tutors. During the session, tutors were asked two questions: ‘how should staff tutors and faculty managers run effective observations?’ and ‘what feedback would help you the most?’ A further focus group took place in November 2017 within a regular meeting that is scheduled for a similar number of tutor line managers.
The tutor discussions that took placed can be summarised by a set of keywords: purpose, importance, dimensions, acknowledgment, dialogue, frequency, practicalities, negotiation, feedback, differences, opportunities and connections. Discussions from the staff tutor focus group can be summarised as: philosophy, relationships, dialogue, guidelines, feedback, online, experience, priority and opportunities. One of the immediate outcomes of these focus groups was to uncover a set of practical and adaptable guidelines that have been used for Science tutors.
Looking towards the future, a systematic survey of tuition practice, attitudes and experience could be established. Also, since the research has been carried out within the Faculty of STEM, it may be useful to extend this work to other faculties to uncover a more detailed and broader attitudes surrounding tutorial observations. A further action is to complete and the writing of a formal academic paper that summarises the literature review and the findings from the two focus groups.
To conclude, there are a number of key themes that are key to successful tuition observations, and this is reflected in the results from the two groups. These themes are of course, the importance of trust between tutor and line manager, and the importance of clear communication.