Can Peer Support Improve Your Pedagogy?

A Talking About Teaching Review (Event took place January 23rd, 2015)
written by Sheila McManus

The participants at the January Talking about Teaching event (“Can Peer Support Improve Your Pedagogy?”) were a perfect microcosm of the existing peer support community: few in number but highly diverse and passionate believers in peer support as one strategy for helping teachers teach better.  Six graduate students and six instructors from a wide variety of disciplines joined five facilitators in a “world café”-style discussion.  There were five different tables, each with their own topic and facilitator: traditional one-on-one mentoring (Wayne Lippa, facilitator); the Instructional Skills Workshop (Leanne Elias); communities of practice (Lisa Doolittle); [He]art of Teaching (Harold Jansen), and small group models like triads and squares (Sheila McManus).  Participants had to choose three of the five topics to discuss, and there was time at the end for all the participants and facilitators to have a final conversation about the benefits and challenges of the different models.  Two of the peer support models already exist here at U of L (more information about the ISW and [He]art of Teaching can be found at the Teaching Centre’s website) and the other three exist in many different informal contexts.  Over the course of the two hours a strong consensus emerged that the different models each have different benefits and challenges; they can serve different needs depending on what kind of support the instructor wants, and whether the instructor is new or very experienced.  Not surprisingly, field-specific mentoring was a higher priority for many of the grad students than any of the multi-disciplinary models, while the experienced instructors in the room were more interested in hearing about how they could learn from teachers in other disciplines.  There was little agreement, however, about who should create and maintain the other options; participants noted that in some cases it might work best for the Teaching Centre to coordinate them, but others suggested that more peer support needs to be done by and within specific departments and faculties.