A Review of Classroom Observation Techniques Used in Postsecondary Settings

WCER Working Paper No. 2013-01

Matthew T. Hora and Joseph J. Ferrare

February 2013, 17 pp.

ABSTRACT: Classroom observation is a method of directly observing teaching practice as it unfolds in real time, with the observer or analyst taking notes and/or coding instructional behaviors in the classroom or from videoed lessons. In postsecondary settings, instruments for conducting classroom observations are typically less well developed in terms of psychometric testing and conceptual development than those used in K-12 schools. However, policymakers and researchers are increasingly interested in using observation techniques in order to better understand the nature of postsecondary teaching practice, and also to evaluate the quality and efficacy of faculty teaching. In this paper we review the basic situations where observation protocols are used in postsecondary settings, key characteristics of these protocols, examples of those that are commonly used, and their strengths and weaknesses. We end with suggestions for a future research agenda that includes a cautionary note that the field of higher education learn from the challenges experienced with teacher evaluation in K-12 schools and avoid using inadequate measures to assess teaching quality that may have deleterious consequences for the profession.

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keywords: Classroom observations, higher education, teaching and learning, methodology