Posted in PGCAP Blogs

Reflection 4 Observing a peer (Responsibility of providing effective formative feedback

The focus of this reflective blog is ‘feedback’ and the role it has on enhancing the student learning experience. The trigger for this reflection was an activity where I had to give feedback to a peer on the PGCAP course. This feedback was given following an observation of my peer’s lecture on criminology theory. Although prior to this session I was doubtful that I could give effective feedback to my peer, due to my lack of knowledge of criminology, I found the discussion during the PGCAP lecture reframed my thinking about the purpose of feedback. Furthermore, my peer completed an observational form that told me what she wanted the focus of the feedback to be on, which was her management of student behaviour. Thus, I found giving feedback a positive experience as I could see how my peer could use what we discussed to move her own learning and development forward. However, although I use observation frequently in the learning environment, I recognised how my own feedback to students is less constructive and unlikely to enhance the learning experience.

By providing a mechanism of self-reflection and improvement, one of the purposes of using peer observation in higher education is to enhance and improve teaching (Cosh 1998). However, it appears the mechanism of providing feedback needs to be appropriate to ensure the desired outcome from peer observation is achieved. For example, Siebert and Walsh (2012) discuss how reflection following observation can become a mechanism for the person to identify how they ‘could work harder and more effectively’ to meet the needs of the organisation, rather than identifying their own learning needs and how the organisation could support them to achieve these. McMahon, Barrett, & O’Neil (2007) suggests that the above type of issue arises when there is a power difference between the observer and the person being observed and  recommends an approach that fosters a mutual approach to the reflection process. To do this McMahon, Barrett, & O’Neil (2007) recommends that those being observed have an element of control over the process including ‘choice of observer, focus of the observation, form and method of feedback’. It would appear the approach adopted as part of the peer observation on the PGCAP, in the use of the observation form, achieved this mutual approach to feedback.

However, I am frequently involved in providing feedback to students following observation of their clinical or presentation skills. Prior to my own experience, my approach to providing this feedback probably fostered an atmosphere where the student felt they needed to justify their lack of performance and having to acknowledge that they needed to do better. According to the Higher Education Academy (2012), this approach is not fit for purpose as it does not support students to consider what they need to do to achieve the standards required of them to meet the learning outcomes of the course. Furthermore, feedback after an observation or presentation is an opportunity for formative feedback, which Biggs and Tang (2012) suggest is a powerful tool for enhancing the student’s learning experience. This is because formative feedback occurs during the process of learning, helping the student to identify what they need to do to support their learning as they work towards achieving the learning outcomes of the module (Biggs and Tang, 2012).

Based on the seven principles of good feedback practice (Higher Education Academy 2004 and Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick) I have begun to take the following action when providing formative feedback following the observation of student’s clinical skills or presentations. The letters in brackets demonstrates how this action relates to the descriptors in the UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education.

  • To reduce student anxiety, where observation is not part of a summative assessment, I make students aware how formative feedback is designed to support their learning rather to test their knowledge (A4).
  • When providing feedback I to make students aware of how the observation relates to the learning outcomes (A1, A, K2, K5).
  • Prior to the observation, I discuss with the students the standard of practice we are expected to observe during the observation. I provide feedback as to what was good about the performance and areas where the performance did not meet the required standard (V1, V2, V3).
  • A well as oral feedback, I am providing written feedback and suggestions to the students so that they are able to reflect on what additional learning they need to do to meet the desired standards or learning outcomes. However, where the observation has involved a group of students I need to identify ways of providing individual feedback (V1, A3).


Biggs, J.B., Tang, C., 2011. Teaching for quality learning at university. London: McGraw-Hill Education.

Cosh, J., 1998. Peer Observation in Higher Education‐‐A Reflective Approach. Innovations in Education and Training International35(2), pp.171-176.

Higher Education Academy., 2004. Enhancing student learning through effective formative feedback. UK: Higher Education Academy (2017). UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) | Higher Education Academy. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 November 2016].

McMahon, T., Barrett, T. and O’Neill, G., 2007. Using observation of teaching to improve quality: Finding your way through the muddle of competing conceptions, confusion of practice and mutually exclusive intentions. Teaching in Higher Education12(4), pp.499-511.

Nicol, D.J. and Macfarlane‐Dick, D., 2006. Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in higher education31(2), pp.199-218.

Siebert, S. and Walsh, A., 2013. Reflection in work-based learning: self-regulation or self-liberation?. Teaching in Higher Education18(2), pp.167-178.



I am an Occupational Therapist and my main passion is the using the built environment to support people's occupational performance (basically ensuring people are able to do the things they want, need and have to do in their everyday lives without being hindered by the built environment). Having completed an MSc in Accessibility and Inclusive Design I was given an opportunity to complete a PhD, which I did in July 2016. Currently I am based in the School of Health Sciences at University of Salford. My research interest is in the process used by occupational therapists to modify home environments.

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