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Lecturers under student microscope

A pilot scheme means staff are observed and judged by the people they teach

STUDENTS ARE are turning the tables on their lecturers by carrying out lesson observations and judging the quality of teaching.

Chichester College has held a trial in which 14 members of the student union executive joined lesson obse

rvations held by staff. It says the experiment was well received by lecturers.

Colin Whitaker, director of quality, said: "When we first raised this, some members of staff were a bit concerned. They had images of students running around with clipboards giving them grades.

"But we made it clear that what we had in mind was for members of the student executive to partner college observers and we would look for lecturers to volunteer so no one was press-ganged into it.

"It seemed to be a clear progression from some of the other things we were doing. But it had to be managed very carefully so it didn't seem as though the students were going in making all sorts of ill- informed judgments."

The 14 students involved in the trial only sat in on lessons outside the subjects they studied, so they were not passing judgment on their own lecturers.

At their own suggestion, it was agreed that they should not give lecturers grades, as experienced observers do, because they were not familiar with the Ofsted performance scale.

Instead, after a lesson, their feedback was incorporated into the report compiled by the staff observer.

Before they start, students go through a day of training so they understand the college's approach to teaching and its standards.

About 30 lessons were observed in the pilot scheme, and the college expects to make the process a permanent feature. Mr Whitaker said the students approached the job in a highly professional manner and sometimes had even higher standards than the staff observers.

"In some cases, they picked up on things that the staff had missed," he said. "Some of them were much more critical about the management of low-level poor behaviour in classes than the observers were.

"It is also a developmental process for the student executive. It's been good for the relationship between college managers and the executive, and it's been a way of involving them in a whole range of decisions. They've taken the job very seriously."

Mr Whitaker said that, while a college is different from a commercial organisation, it is still right to treat students as customers whose opinion is highly valued.

While Chichester is one of several colleges to be criticised by the University and College Union for increasing the pressure on lecturers through lesson observation, many staff backed the scheme.

Jan Jordan, a travel and tourism lecturer, said: "In market research, you ask the customer and that's all we are doing.

"It was what we would do at the end of a lesson anyway, but this just makes it more formal.

"If you're being observed by 22 students in a class anyway, one more is neither here nor there."

Staff also said that, as well as helping them with feedback on their teaching, sitting in on the lessons made students reflect more on their own learning and helped them to appreciate the work that lecturers put in.

Ms Jordan said her group was intrigued by the observation and, after discussing it, looked at her lesson plan.

She said: "My teaching style is maybe a little off-the-wall, but it made them realise there is actually a plan."

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