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Formative Observations from the Teaching Center

Formative Observations from the Teaching Center

Observation reports provide instructors with a summary of teaching practices observed by a teaching consultant during multiple class sessions and feedback to be used to improve teaching and learning. Data is collected using an adaptable, Teaching Center-developed tool based on research-proven teaching best practices discussed in How Learning Works (Ambrose, 2010) and Teaching at Its Best (Nilson, 2016). (NOTE: To access these articles, you must be logged in or log into the University Library System.)

Observation reports should not be considered evidence of overall teaching effectiveness. The purpose of teaching consultants conducting observations is to provide feedback to inform improvements to teaching.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • You are experiencing a teaching and learning challenge (like student disengagement, for example), and you want a teaching consultant to come to your class to see if they can help you pinpoint the cause and help you work on a solution.
  • You want to continuously improve your teaching and schedule observations at regular intervals as a teaching “check up”.
  • You have specific long-term teaching goals (like implementing problem based learning in your courses) that you would like to work toward with a teaching consultant. Observations are one way that you check progress towards successfully achieving those goals.
  • You want to try an innovative new teaching strategy or tool and would like a teaching consultant to observe to let you know how it went and how you might improve things for next time.

Your discussions, communications, and reports with and from teaching consultants are confidential.

Initial Consultation: If you would like to request an observation, you would contact the Teaching Commons at teaching@pitt.edu. A teaching consultant assigned as a liaison to your department will respond to your email within a week to arrange an initial consultation. During the initial consultation, the consultant will talk to you about your course and your teaching and learning challenges and goals. The consultant will likely ask you to bring copies of your course syllabus or other course materials to review prior to the observation. You can request that the consultant pay attention to particular things during observations (student engagement or inclusive teaching methods, for instance) if you would like. At the end of the initial consultation, you will schedule observations on mutually agreed upon dates.

Observations: We typically recommend scheduling two or three observations over the course of the semester so that we can observe you teach multiple times, minimizing the likelihood that what we observe is a one-time occurrence or fluke, and allowing us to document your improvement over time. The teaching consultant will attend your class on the agreed upon dates and use the Teaching Center’s internally developed observation tool to document what they observe.Within 24 hours of each observation, the consultant will send you one page of feedback summarizing strengths and areas for improvement. The consultant will also meet with you after each observation to debrief and discuss the summary, their recommendations, and to offer specific strategies to work on.

Final Observation Report: Within two weeks of the last observation, the consultant will send you a formal observation report synthesizing information from all observations. The purposes of this report are to document teaching trends observed and to make recommendations to improve your teaching. Like other communication with your consultant, the final observation report is confidential. You may share it, but your consultant may not share it with anyone but you.

Although the observations occur during your regularly scheduled class times, you should plan to meet with your teaching consultant before the observations and after each one and to devote additional planning time to using feedback to improve your teaching. The amount of time will vary, but plan for at least four hours of meeting time, an hour to review your consultant’s summaries and final report, plus planning to determine how to use the teaching consultant’s feedback.

All teaching consultants are expert teachers with years of experience assisting faculty in developing courses and curriculum and in teaching their own higher education courses in various disciplines. They may not teach in your discipline, which means that they are not qualified to comment on the content of your course, however, they have the pedagogical expertise to assist you with course and learning activity design, improving student interaction and engagement, implementing equitable teaching methodologies in your classroom, and a variety of different pedagogical techniques to improve your teaching experience and your students’ learning experiences.

Resources and Readings for Classroom Observations

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