Observation of Online Courses


Many are teaching online (some for the first time), perhaps others of us will be asked to teach online soon. I would like to share research on "Conducting Observations in Online Classes (2016)" by the Online Learning Consortium (OLC). For those readers not currently teaching online, much of this will generalize.

In this article, they state, "The evidence against the effectiveness of student evaluations as a way to measure instructional success or gather feedback for redesigning courses is mounting. However, while many institutions have established peer or faculty center observation programs for getting more direct feedback on teaching, online courses can feel more isolated." There is additional research, which came out this week (2020) entitled, "Even ‘Valid’ Student Evaluations of Teaching (SETs) Are ‘Unfair' (full article)." A key takeaway from this research is that "using a combination of independent evaluators, interviews with students, teaching observations by experts, peer review of instructional materials and SETs give a much more accurate picture of teaching proficiency."

Therefore, whether face-to-face or online, perhaps we should consider collecting additional data to inform our pedagogy. Asking your CTL to observe your class using a research-based protocol can be one aspect of an overall teaching portfolio. Penn State has created a "Faculty Peer Review of Online Teaching" which may be helpful. The emphasis of their process is on holistic feedback, looking for places where faculty members make themselves accessible using the digital tools, assignments and spaces that encourage student interaction, opportunities for active learning, methods and speed of feedback, and other signs of an engaged online classroom. Penn State provides an open-ended form, which can be updated to align with individual approaches. When considering specific items to observe, you may wish to review the following sources:

Esarey, J. & Valdes, N. (2020) Unbiased, reliable, and valid student evaluations can still be unfair, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education.

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