Sharing Active Learning Practices to Improve Teaching: Peer Observation of Active Teaching in a School of Engineering
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Promoting faculty development in a School of Engineering is quite unusual within the Italian academic context. Engineering education is strongly content-oriented, and the assumption that—in essence—effective teaching amounts to delivering maximum content is deeply rooted in most engineering instructors. Stated differently, one common assumption among instructors is that whenever one educator masters the content of a course, no need for improvement in teaching is needed or even possible. Under this perspective, a class is seen as the way to feed the students with new content, thus making learning an almost entirely self-guided process to be activated by each student individually outside the classroom.
To overcome this instructor-centered educational model and promote modernization of the teaching practice, in 2016 the School of Engineering of the University of Padova (UniPD) pioneered for Italy a faculty development program named Teaching for Learning (T4L). The program kicked off with a two-and-a-half-day retreat workshop for engineering instructors recruited on a voluntary basis. The principles of active learning were introduced and practiced during the workshop under the guidance of national and international experts in adult learning and teaching in higher education. The retreat involved thirty instructors and was extremely successful, to the point that the T4L workshop experience rapidly spread across UniPD, engaging a tenfold greater number of instructors across all disciplines in the subsequent 2 years.
The T4L@Engineering program continued in the two following years with the objective of sharing active teaching/learning practices both among the retreat participants and among other engineering instructors who did not participate in the residential retreat. Several half-day workshops were organized, including some dealing with the use of digital technologies to promote active learning. Paralleling these activities was a “peer observation of active teaching” (POAT) process, which was conceptualized, designed, and tested in a small group, and finally proposed to the entire community of engineering instructors through a call for volunteers.
This chapter presents how the POAT process was developed and put into practice, and discusses some lessons that were learnt after 1 year of experimentation.
KeywordsActive learning Faculty development Engineering education Peer observation
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