Being invited to join the project was exciting and we were keen to learn more about how the students viewed the programme, the lectures and the activities that we asked them to engage in. However, having received other types of feedback from the NSS and observations in my teaching career, I was a little nervous about the responses that we might receive and the potential for being judged negatively by the students. The training that both staff and students received went some way towards allaying these fears and it was good to know that this was intended to be a more open dialogic experience in which staff and students are able to learn from each other. My overall experience of cycle 1 has shown this to be the case and when I came to teach the observed lesson I found that I was not nervous in the way that I might have been during a traditional teaching observation in the past.
The first meeting with my teaching colleague and the researcher was a helpful opportunity to reflect on our aims as lecturers and what we were hoping to achieve in the first year of the degree programme. I learned more about my colleague’s philosophy and the ways in which our different approaches to learning and teaching were based on very similar values and beliefs. This has been an important guide for the rest of the project because personal circumstances meant that I had to complete the rest of cycle 1 on my own.
The two students were self-selected and this enabled different voices to be heard rather than those of the students who are already involved in other feedback forums etc. I think this has been an important factor in the findings from cycle 1 because these students are more representative of the cohort as a whole and they were able to offer some interesting insights.
Having completed their training the students were very keen to attend the first meeting and they had prepared a lengthy series of questions for me to answer. I was happy to follow their lead and their questions provided the structure for our discussion, although it was difficult to arrive at a focus for the first observation. They seemed to be more interested in me and my teaching rather than their learning or the activities that they were being asked to complete. As a result, I returned to the discussion that I had with my teaching colleague and ask them to focus their observation on the previous directed task and group discussion that was intended to be an opportunity for reflection on their prior reading.
The observation itself took place in a week that had particularly poor attendance from this year group across all of the modules and students has just been reminded of the importance of engagement for their future success on the programme. As a result, the attendance for my session was much higher than usual with a number of students who were there after several weeks of absence. Therefore, these issues of engagement were at the forefront of many students’ minds when the activities were taking place.
During the lecture, I was aware that the two students were observing and making notes, but I felt that it did not really impact on my teaching. This seemed to make the observation a more authentic record of the event, particularly as their fellow students were unaware that the observation was taking place. However, it does raise some ethical questions about those people who were included in the research without their consent and it would be helpful to address these issues in the meetings that take place before cycle 2.
The post observation meeting took much longer than planned because the students had prepared another lengthy set of questions for me. This felt rather like an interview, partly because my teaching partner was unable to join us, and the dynamics of the relationship were affected by the imbalance. However, both students were keen to find out about the ways in which I managed challenging behaviour and encouraged group members to engage in discussion. This topic of engagement and managing relationships within the teaching and learning context became the main focus and it fitted well with the original focus for cycle 1. The students were able to contribute some helpful suggestions about the best ways to encourage their peers to undertake directed tasks and wider reading. They highlighted the importance of their own relationships with their fellow students and the ways that these can impact on their learning. This helped me to reflect on the ways in which we might build a more active community of learners within the programme by concentrating more effort on those students who, like these two, are keen to engage and develop as effective practitioners.
After the meeting, I reflected on the positive relationships that I had built with these two students and the ways in which they felt that they had contributed to the teaching and learning on the programme. This was a rewarding experience and I am keen to develop it further during cycle 2. However, I am also aware that these students have now submitted work which will not be assessed anonymously and I am conscious of the ways in which my role on the project could potentially influence my opinions as I approach the marking task. It will be important to seek the support of my colleagues to manage this imbalance and ensure that I am fair and consistent with all of the students as their assessor.
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