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Using peer dialogue to improve teaching practice in the UCL Department of Italian

Colleagues worked together to reflect and share experiences about online tools for teaching, Moodle tips and tricks, in-class activities with students, and strategies to improve students’ assessment.

16 March 2017

The Peer Dialogue Scheme inspires staff to develop their teaching and students’ learning, by working closely with colleagues.

Staff can work:

  • in groups to share experiences and explore new options (Option A), or
  • in pairs to observe one another’s teaching (option B).

The scheme is open to all staff who teach and/or support students’ learning at UCL.

Catherine Keen and Beatrice Sica from UCL Department of Italian, in the School of European Languages, Culture and Society (SELCS) describe how they used peer dialogue.

Having a large group allowed for a diverse group of topics to be explored

Beatrice Sica, the current Head of the Italian Department, encouraged a group of eigth colleagues to work together in a peer dialogie project so she set up an Outlook group to facilitate communication and collaboration. 

"Initially the idea was to explore only online and digital tools for teaching, but we ended up also exploring non-computer-based initiatives, because some members were more interested in the offline, real world than in online activities. 

Having a large group allowed for a much wider variety of topics to be explored, we had a great sense of community, and it was fun. The meetings created a collaborative atmosphere, and proved to be much more stimulating than just observing a colleague assigned to you randomly.

Each group member proposed his/her own topic, something they were interested in exploring or had just adopted experimentally. The final list of topics offered the group both convergences and diversity of interests.

Together, the group has explored a variety of topics and reviewed their benefits and limitations, such as:

  • new apps such as OneNote Class Notebook
  • Moodle activities including 'Assignments' (from both tutor’s and student’s perspectives), and the Moodle feature “Scheduler”
  • the pros and cons of MyFeedback, especially its utility as a tool for following the progress of personal tutees
  • working with UCL archives and collections and organising hands-on visits to collections

Worth making the effort to meet

The group met twice, once in the first term and again earlier this year. Each session lasted an hour and a half and gave each member of staff the chance to present a topic and discuss it with their colleagues.

 “Finding the time to meet wasn’t always easy,” says Lucia Rinaldi. “Obviously, the more members the group has, the more difficult it is to find a date that suits everyone. But after a few Doodles we were fine.”

Vieri Samek-Lodovici notes: “I was worried that this activity, with a group of eight people, would require too much time, but in the end I was happy that the meetings lasted even longer than scheduled.”

A way to share and discuss best practice

All participants were very pleased about the possibilities that this scheme opens up in terms of sharing knowledge and experiences with colleagues.

Lisa Sampson, a new member of the department, notes, “These group meetings have been a really useful way of quickly gaining practical tips on many relevant uses of Moodle and other technologies, as I adjust from using a different virtual learning platform at Reading University.” She also enjoyed the chance to get to know colleagues and to share teaching innovations through structured, but informal, discussions, adding, “I highly recommend this alternative option to one-to-one peer review for integrating new staff.”

Carlotta Ferrara degli Uberti experimented with new forms of assessments, with a special focus on first-year modules. “The group made me feel the support of a community, and it was a great opportunity to get feedback on my experiments,” she says. Cristina Massaccesi, who uses regularly online platforms such as Moodle and eXtend, learned about OneNote Class Notebook and applied it successfully to language courses. “I didn’t know about OneNote. Technoclasses allowed me to see both its pros and cons and use it successfully right away.”

Marta Niccolai also conducted some experiments with language classes, but focused on theatre and acting techniques. “Unlike online tools, which facilitate communication outside the classroom, in the classroom the human interaction becomes very important. I illustrated to the group the benefits and difficulties of acting for language students, and was very pleased to discover that I was not alone in sharing this interest in theatre. Indeed, I learned a lot from our informal, open, and informative discussions and I hope to be able to do something similar next year.”