Peer Observation of Teaching

contacts: Dr Rosalind Duhs, Centre for the Advancement of Learning & Teaching [Training contact]
Rob Traynor, Quality Assurance Coordinator, Student and Registry Services [Policy contact]


This policy statement was approved by Quality Management and Enhancement Committee (QMEC) in September 2004 and is kept under continual review.

The aim of peer observation of teaching (PoT) at UCL is to enhance teaching quality by encouraging reflection on practice. It is intended to help maintain and improve standards by spreading good practice, exchanging views and innovations and providing opportunities for staff to learn about new or different teaching approaches, thus ensuring consistency of teaching standards in departments and across UCL.

The peer observation process is also intended to enhance staff development and provide support, not only in aiding the professional development of the observer and observee through training opportunities, but also in assisting the development of teaching skills through formative and constructive feedback.

The principles underpinning UCL's approach to PoT are that – i) it is a developmental rather than a judgemental process, ii) any feedback given should be formative not summative, iii) the process should be sufficiently flexible to respect the real pedagogical differences between subjects.

PoT should be seen as one among a number of processes which may be used by departments to manage and enhance the quality of their teaching provision and promote staff development.

To this end peer observation of teaching should operate as follows:

  • the normal frequency for peer observation of teaching should be once each academic year;
  • any form of teaching may be observed, depending on circumstances and at the department's discretion. The link between the face to face session which is observed and students' preparation and follow up learning activities including those using the virtual learning environment (Moodle) may also be taken into consideration;
  • all teaching staff should be observed in principle1;
  • other categories of staff making a significant teaching contribution should be observed at the discretion of the department;
  • peer observation of teaching should be kept a confidential process - with feedback strictly confidential to the observer and the observee;
  • peer observation pairings should be changed on a regular basis;
  • departments should keep a simple record of peer observation, recording the names of the observer and observee, the relevant programme of study/course, the date and location of the observation, and the type of teaching session observed;
  • Heads of Department may wish occasionally to observe colleagues' teaching for more judgmental purposes - but this kind of observation should be distinguished from peer observation of teaching (and this distinction made clear to staff of the department)2;
  • Departmental Teaching Committees (DTC) should receive an annual summary of the operation of peer observation in the department, i.e. a statement confirming that peer observation of all relevant staff has taken place in the preceding 12 months according to UCL policy;
  • the annual summary should then be forwarded by the Departmental Teaching Committees to the Faculty Teaching Committee (FTC);
  • Faculty Teaching Committees have the responsibility to ensure that any issues arising from the reports (such as non-compliance with policy) are followed up appropriately: the minutes of FTC meetings, by receipt of the annual summaries from the DTCs, should indicate clearly any follow up action agreed in order to i) demonstrate that FTCs are discharging their responsibility in this area and ii) enable a statement on this issue to be included in the annual report on FTC proceedings to be submitted to Academic Committee;
  • a pre-meeting dialogue between the observer and observee should normally take place, although it would be acceptable to do this by letter or e-mail instead of face-to-face, if this is preferred;
  • following each observation, feedback should be provided through a meeting between the observer and observee – feedback should be motivational and/or formative and not judgmental;
  • departments should encourage staff to make use of training materials available from the Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching (CALT);
  • departments are permitted to produce their own guidelines on peer observation of teaching in accordance with and to supplement the UCL policy;
  • staff training is available from CALT;
  • departments should keep a record of 'trained' observers as appropriate;
  • departmental/faculty learning and teaching strategies should include reference to the procedures for PoT of the department(s) concerned.

See also the Peer Observation of Teaching guidance in the Teaching and Learning Portal.

April 2015

1 QMEC recognises that it may not be practicable or appropriate in all cases to extend PoT to all teaching staff - in view of the wide variation across departments in their arrangements for, e.g., part-time or occasional teaching.

2 For example, where outside assessment of teaching provision is involved, such as clinical departments with programme elements validated by the NHS.