Teacher observations in SoTL - what do we really mean and how are they valued?

  • A Ahlberg, Faculty of Engineering, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

    Maria Larsson, Center for Educational Development, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

    Katarina Mårtensson, Center for Educational Development, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

    Thomas Olsson, Faculty of Engineering, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

    Torgny Roxå, Faculty of Engineering, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

    Lund University has for the past decade rewarded excellence in university teaching using a SoTL-based Kolb-like circular model wherein “Teaching practice - student learning” is followed by “Teacher observing teaching and learning”, and in turn “Teacher using knowledge about teaching and learning” and finally “Teacher plan teaching and learning in relation to limiting aspects and possibilities”, and so on, iteratively (Olsson et al. 2010). This model includes teaching skills visible in the classroom within an overarching context of pedagogical competence that requires SoTL-mindedness from the excellent teacher (cf. Kreber 2002). Rewarded teachers are assessed on the content of their teaching portfolios (including evidence), and on peer interviews. The reward system has turned out stable, growing, and accepted by academics, as it has been underpinned and improved by follow-up research and partly validated by course evaluation data.

    This ISL contribution explicitly focuses the “Teacher observation” stage of the model. In the early years of the teacher reward system at Lund University there was a focus on whether or not the teacher involved observations in teaching design decision-making, and to what degree this was done. It was implicitly assumed that it is observations of actual student learning in progress that causes teachers to act and change teaching for the better.

    Here we go beyond that notion and scrutinize the character of observations that emerges in the foreground of teacher narratives (teaching portfolios). What is  observed by the teacher: Student performance or the inherent teaching practices of ones institution? Is it the choice of curriculum? Are teacher observations planned and documented interventions, incidental in-action experiences (Schõn 1983), or retrospective stories recreated from memory? Are the observations supported by evidence? Are single critical incidents in the classroom pivotal, or is it repeated experiences of suboptimal learning that make teachers change teaching design? Are student reactions to teaching design important? Are observations gathered to deliberately influence the norms of the teaching team and the students? And, finally, how do the combined answers to all these questions influence our notions of teaching excellence?

    In the proposed conference session we will present a range of sample answers to our exploratory questions that we have extracted from teaching portfolios of rewarded teachers in different academic disciplinary fields, and therafter invite the audience to discuss its bearing on our notions on teaching excellence.