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Open Doors: A New Take on Teaching Observations

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I’ve long been in favor of teachers visiting each other’s classrooms, and not just for the purpose of evaluation. For many of us in higher ed, what we do in the classroom is professional activity observed only by our students, and we seldom (or never) get to see how our colleagues go about the work of teaching. Sometimes we’ll be able to read others’ assignments, if they’re posted online or — as in my department — accidentally left in the photocopy machine. But actually watching and learning from in-class activities led by someone else is all too rare, in my experience.

This is why I was particularly interested when my friend and colleague Cindy Jennings recently Tweeted something about an event sponsored by Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching: “Open Dores: Two Days of Teaching Visits.” (Why “dores” and not “doors”? It’s short for “commodores,” which is the Vanderbilt mascot. I had to look it up…)

The center describes “Open Dores” as follows:

Would you like to watch one of your colleagues teach to see how they manage the classroom, engage students, or address challenging subjects? Do you ever feel like you toil in private to learn how to teach? You’re not alone…

This year we are proud to offer a new spin on our typical teaching visits program by organizing two intensive days of teaching visits. On September 27th and 28th, thirty-eight classes taught by some of the most well-respected and awarded teachers across Vanderbilt’s many disciplines will open their classroom doors to faculty and graduate students. From ‘The Sociology of Religion’ to ‘Systems Physiology,’ from ‘Existential Fictions’ to the ‘Politics of Public Policy,’ a wide range of engaging courses will be open to help you think about different methods of teaching.

Essentially, interested faculty and graduate students registered to visit particular classes (a detail that helps avoid overcrowding). Subsequently, the two days of open classrooms were followed by a reception where “the hosts and visitors [had] an opportunity to reflect on their teaching and celebrate Vanderbilt’s pedagogical community.”

This sounds like a great idea, and it’s one that I think other campuses would do well to imitate.

Does your campus have an organized system for classroom visits? How does it work? Alternately, have you visited other classrooms or had colleagues visit yours? Please share your experiences in the classroom.

[CC-licensed Flickr photo by Paul Bico]

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