The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

5. Self-reflection and evaluation of small group teaching sessions

Annual teaching appraisals are standard across UK universities. Hence, instructors should expect someone to observe their teaching at least once a year. However, regardless of the extent to which formal teaching appraisal schemes are imposed, watching how others teach and obtaining constructive feedback on one’s own teaching is invaluable.

Observation opportunities

  1. Instructors may ask to observe other instructors, particularly those with excellent reputations for teaching. Observing others gives us an opportunity to see what ‘works’ for colleagues and provides insights into small group teaching methods that are effective. Yet, we should also be aware of our own strengths and weaknesses and have the confidence to recognise that different approaches may suit different tutors.

  2. Ask trusted colleagues to observe and provide feedback on your own teaching, even outside of formal teaching appraisal processes. Colleagues can often offer valuable suggestions, and through observing may also be able to confirm whether students really are engaged and working in the small group sessions.

  3. As well as observing other instructors, it is often very helpful to observe lectures that are given in modules where lectures are accompanied by tutorials. This gives an incredibly valuable insight into how the students are taught in the large class sessions; the pace of delivery, level of technical difficulty and level of detail of coverage of material. This can provide real insight into the student experience with instructors then able to adapt small group sessions so that students gain maximum benefit from them. Note that with greater use of lecture capture in universities across the UK it is often now easier to watch lectures at a time convenient to the tutor as they can watch a recording of the lecture rather than attending the ‘live’ lecture. However, there are benefits from attending the actual lecture as it is easier to gauge how students respond to the material covered when experiencing the lecture alongside them.

  4. 4. With greater adoption of lecture capture in universities across the UK it is now also possible for instructors to watch recordings of their own teaching to review their own performance. This can initially be very daunting but hugely beneficial.

In addition, all universities survey students at least annually to obtain module level feedback. This feedback may only be sent to module leaders, but make sure that you see it so that you can reflect on successful and any less successful aspects of a module, your own input into the success of a module, and measures that you can take to improve your teaching. Common issues that are raised about the quality of small group economics teaching either when colleagues are observed or in module evaluation feedback include dissatisfaction that all material is not covered in the class; complaints that sessions are not interactive and that the tutor ‘talks at the class’; a related issue is that classes are dull; and that feedback on work submitted is inadequate.

Teaching tip:

At the end of every module think about identifying at least one thing you can change to improve your teaching on that module in the future. We should all be continually trying to improve the quality of our teaching, even if just in small ways.

Finally, as well as talking to Economics colleagues, observing them, asking them to observe you, if you are still concerned about the quality of your teaching all UK universities have a staff development department. This department will be able to offer support.