What’s new with Peer Supported Review of Teaching?

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Dr Sean Bracken, Co-Lead for Learning and Teaching provides an update of how the new policy is developing across the University

The policy of Peer Supported Review of Teaching (PSRT) (http://www.worc.ac.uk/edu/899.htm) aims to enhance students’ learning experiences through systematic professional reflection and dialogue.

While identifying that teaching staff are expected to avail of at least two opportunities for PRST throughout the academic year, there is creative latitude for determining how precisely such opportunities might be realised. The sense of openness embodied in the policy ensures there is ample scope for fostering innovative approaches to peer reflection and learning. How reflective practices take shape ultimately depend upon the learning requirements of individual lecturers, their life experiences, the particular demands of their professional practices and the cultural expectations and heritages associated within specific disciplines and Institutes.

For example, within the Institute of Education there is a well-established tradition of exploring concepts associated with reflective practice. These practices are informed by inspirational educators from Dewey to Schon, and more recently as exemplified in the work of Tony Ghaye, a former lecturer at Worcester. Reflection within the discipline of education has a strong tradition of articulating ways to redress imbalances of inequality and injustice. This has found voice in the notions of self-aware action, or reflexive action, as articulated in the writings of Stephen Ball and Michael Apple. The reflexive focus on the nature of self within education entails becoming more critically aware of self and student identity markers including those of; gender, ethnicity, social class, religion and age. It posits the reflexive self as a site for research and action probing the ways in which professional identities influence values and resulting actions. Further, such reflexions encourage educators to become critically aware of the privileges, emotions and complexities that the educator self entails (thanks to my colleagues Dr Richard Woolley and Karen Appleby for opening discussions about this). Such reflexions about the nature of one’s actions within a social and pedagogical context should lead to a change in ‘praxis’ which is the professional action associated with learning and teaching. Praxis might also consider longer-term actions that accrue as a result of the learner-teacher conversational / transformational relationship. Processes to strengthen reflexive praxis, within a mentoring and coaching framework, sit comfortably within the parameters of PSRT.

Other individuals, centres and institutes will have differing localised, contextual and professional priorities that inform their approaches to PSRT. At a recent Learning and Teaching Leads meeting, a range of successful approaches were shared and each of these has evolved as a response to the interests and concerns of colleagues within their disciplines. PSRT practices include tried and tested strategies including classroom-based peer observations followed by critical reflection and discussion. This has been particularly effective where there are colleagues who are new to the profession and who benefit from opportunities to witness and reflect upon practices of more experienced colleagues.

Additionally, experienced lecturers have offered ‘open door’ access to key lectures and seminars. These frequently act as a way of exploring new approaches to curriculum content and pedagogy. For example, the implementation of new approaches to curriculum as reflected in the teaching of long thin modules, became a focus within one institute. These key lectures are followed by collegial discussions on the nature of learning and teaching that has transpired. Formats for prompting reflection and learning may also take on a more open topic or themed-based approach to PSRT, one innovative example is a ‘world café’ open forum for identifying and tackling key teaching or learning challenges.

Critically, within at least two of the institutes involved, there is strong attribute of recording, sharing and sustainability. Notably, upwards of 70% of colleagues have provided a written reflective record of their involvement in a PSRT related experience. This is a great initial achievement for the new scheme and one of the key learning points is that there should be clear mechanisms for collating and dissemination of learning within the scheme. As such, PSRT affords opportunities to enrich pedagogy and professional development. It is important that the dynamic approaches to learning are captured to inform our growth as a learning organisation.

Suggestions as to how PSRT is being realised in your personal practice and throughout your Institute would be very welcome in the response space provided below.

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