Palgrave Teaching and Learning

by Sally Brown (Series Editor)

Reviewing learning in diverse settings

Evaluating the effectiveness of teaching and learning outside the standard classroom is potentially not as straightforward as watching a conventional presentation and making judgements about its quality using criteria such as audibility, use of audio-visual aids, ability to engage an audience, delivery and pace, and taking questions. Much that is written about teaching observations concentrates particularly on lectures (with honourable exceptions, including Race et al., 2009), and some of the proformas proposed for review in lectures are inappropriate for other settings.

Contexts including laboratories, studios, sports halls and so on require an observation that is concentrating more on dialogue and facilitation rather than traditional-style delivery or formal class-based activities. Criteria to be used in these settings might include:
  • The extent of the teachers’ ability to build a rapport face-to-face with students using empathy and emotional intelligence to bring out the best in them.
  • How well the teacher is able to ensure all students can participate equivalently in learning sessions (since it is rarely possible to provide identical experiences in a living context).
  • How much students are motivated to engage in the activities provided.
  • How well students are guided to develop a wide range of practical and intellectual skills, and bring them together to become capable practitioners.
  • How they are helped to learn by their mistakes, and to learn that the process of achieving an outcome is often as important (or more so) than achieving the outcome itself, so long as reflection on practice takes place.
  • The extent to which a safe environment is assured, where risk is managed and students learn to be safe-to-practise in the outside world.
  • The extent to which students with disabilities are supported in an inclusive environment, so all can achieve to their maximum potential.
  • How effectively students are given feedback that is meaningful (and isn’t allowed to be ephemeral and readily forgotten) about how to develop their practices.
  • To what extent students become able to work autonomously and to judge their own performance in ways that will stand them in good stead in practice after graduation.
To achieve all of these things may call for a radical review of how learning can be engendered in diverse learning settings, and this will rarely be either easy or popular. Focusing particularly on students’ needs to develop appropriate and discipline-relevant capabilities is likely to be the best route to achieving this.


Race, P. and Leeds Met Teaching Fellows (2009) Using Peer Observation to Enhance Teaching, Leeds: Leeds Met Press.

Adapted from Chapter 5 of Brown, S. (2015) Learning, Teaching and Assessment in Higher Education: Global perspectives, London: Palgrave.