Peer Assisted Reflections on Student Learning

Peer-Assisted Reflections on Student Learning or “PAROSL” is a UCLA program that supports faculty who are interested in (i) incorporating more student-centered, inclusive practices into their teaching and (ii) building their professional teaching portfolios.

PAROSL is different from many peer observation processes in that it is non-evaluative. It is designed to foster collaboration, reflection, and innovation, not to judge an instructor’s practice. Participants receive training in how to conduct a non-evaluative review and how to support a colleague in authentic reflection about student learning.

For many instructors, 2020’s unexpected shift to remote or online instruction has necessitated substantial innovation in teaching practice. By keeping us away from campus, this shift has also curtailed opportunities for informal conversations with colleagues about teaching. PAROSL addresses both of these challenges by providing a structured process that supports innovation and collaboration.

And for instructors concerned about maintaining a robust teaching portfolio during these unusual times, PAROSL provides an option aligned with recognized components of UCLA’s appointment and promotion processes: evidence of “development of new and effective techniques of instruction, including techniques that meet the needs of students from groups that are underrepresented in the field of instruction.”

Innovation: Restructuring Course Website to Ensure Equitable Access and Learning Opportunities

Looking at where I started six weeks ago, now, more than ever, I think through my lesson plans. I think of things like inclusivity. I think of student learning objectives. I think about how students’ learning is made visible. So, in that sense, I feel that my teaching and my thinking have shifted. I am more conscious of what I’m doing. It’s not like previously, where I just used to teach and make an assumption that my students have learned what I wanted them to learn. Now, I think of ways to measure that learning and actually think through, has true learning actually taken place?

Sephrine AchesahLinguistics

Innovation: Think-Pair-Share

For me, the PAROSL experience changed the way I approach discussion in my courses. I fully admit that before my participation in PAROSL, I included discussion in classes because 1) it’s a “good thing” to do, and 2) it encourages (at least some) students to think creatively. But, while working with my colleague Bryant Kirkland and Glory Tobiason of PAROSL, I became a true discussion convert! I used a think-pair-share technique to get students talking to themselves, their neighbors, and the class about a difficult subject. This simple pedagogical innovation engaged students, whether they spoke up or not, and led to a deeper discussion that challenged me as well. It also helped me realize that “discussion” can happen whether or not I hear everyone’s thoughts.

Sarah BeckmannClassics

Innovation: Learning Activity: “What’s the Wrong Answer… And Why?”

The best part was having somebody come to my class and give me feedback (other than students). Somebody with 100% good intentions—that’s priceless, it’s really priceless.

Meliha Bulu-TachirogluChemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Innovation: Purposeful Pause

Through this process, I have learned that I am capable of making small changes. Even when it is a lecture-based class, there are strategies to help facilitate students’ thinking and make this process visible for me. I used to assume that more questions meant more opportunities to think at a higher level. But given the time limitations and the fast-paced lectures, students often missed the learning opportunity I intended with the many questions I was asking. I learned that students, as learners, need time to process, especially if it is a higher order question. My students are very capable of answering the questions I pose in class if they are given the time to process and struggle through them. This is a definite shift in my thinking about student learning.

Nicolas ChristouStatistics

Innovation: Extending In-Class Time for Student-Centered Learning by Creating an Online Collaboration Space

Since starting PAROSL, I have found myself explicitly planning learning outcomes for each class and considering much more carefully why I’m doing the activities I am—asking myself how they connect to intended learning and how I will know if students are achieving learning outcomes. Being able to work with a thoughtful, supportive partner in Laurel Westrup has also contributed to my teaching growth throughout this experience. This more supportive form of observation made me less anxious and more trusting. I was eager to get her feedback. Having her observe and then share with me the evidence she saw regarding the class’s impact on student learning and then to extensively discuss ways to further deepen that impact has been transformative for me.

Peggy DavisWriting Programs

Innovation: Multiple Engagement Modalities to Disrupt Exclusionary Participation Norms

What’s hard about implementing strategies around active learning and inclusive learning is that it sounds really great, but it becomes an unrealistic idea. It’s actually much better to—each quarter—focus on a couple small things you can do to change, as opposed to saying, “I’ll just become this amazing teacher!” but not really having a clear pathway. I think the biggest benefit of PAROSL was having some accountability in terms of making those changes happen.

Carissa EislerChemical Engineering

Innovation: Scaffolding Small-Group Active Learning with Pre-Lesson Assignments

Overall, this process of homing in on one aspect of a lesson and discussing it with a peer has really helped me see a realistic way forward in this world of Zoom teaching that makes me feel like a complete beginner as an educator. Last spring and over the summer, centers at UCLA provided ample professional development from which I gained many great ideas that I forgot before I could implement them. There was so much information about how to teach remotely that I started to feel like I was drinking from a firehose. Meeting with my peer regularly helped me identify and execute small, manageable changes that focused on student learning. Observing her class and seeing her strengths also inspired me and gave me more examples of inclusive, active learning.

Liz GalvinWriting Programs

Innovation: Flipping the Online Classroom

I always kind of hated doing peer reviews, because I would sit in the classroom and not quite know what to say or do or record. And I think what stands out [about PAROSL] is a much more enjoyable practice of listening to a colleague’s lecture and knowing better what to listen for.

Rob GouldStatistics

Innovation: Productively Interrupting Lecture

What PAROSL helped to inspire was the idea that traditional lectures can be productively interrupted and made more interactive. In participating in the program I valued the non-judgmental observation, learning from my PAROSL partner about her teaching (and about my own as seen through her eyes), and the opportunity to enact pedagogic changes through extended conversation with a trusted colleague.

Bryant KirklandClassics

Innovation: Demystifying Disciplinary Jargon and Shortening Direct Instruction to Allow Time for Active Learning

Many programs help instructors become aware of effective teaching methods. But these methods are hardly ever implemented and remain as wishful thinking, as there is no follow up and training during implementation. In contrast, PAROSL gives the instructor a structure to implement a new method in class, and modify it based on feedback from students and the instructor colleague. I think that’s the biggest difference compared to other programs.

Sanjay MohantyCivil and Environmental Engineering

Innovation: Increasing Equitable Access with Model Assignments

I have learned a lot about my own teaching practice. It is very difficult to see your own work and practice through fresh eyes. Having taught many of the major assignments in the past, being able to hear how they are interpreted by someone else (especially in a different teaching context) has been super helpful. Being able to observe my colleague’s course gave me insight into the ways in which teaching (and learning) can look from the other side. There were several strategies that I was able to see that my colleague was utilizing in her course that I would really like to implement in my own moving forward. Overall, I think that PAROSL was a very useful and informative process, particularly given the uniqueness of this quarter and the circumstances surrounding it.

Ashley NewbyWriting Programs

Innovation: Student-Created Visual Aids for Understanding a Text

One of the most useful things about PAROSL was the opportunity to have extensive conversations about teaching with a colleague over the course of a quarter, with concrete examples in front of us from observing each other’s classes.

Lydia SpielbergClassics

Innovation: Supporting Peer-Peer Learning and Collaboration in Asynchronous Classes Through Weekly Project Meetings

Participating in PAROSL—implementing teaching innovations in my course and participating in peer review—made me realize that there are minor changes that we can make as instructors that go a long way in enhancing student learning. Additionally, I think having a peer reviewer and the structure of PAROSL pushed me to think about my teaching practices more than I would have in a regular quarter. This thought process (and the changes that I implemented) did not require excessive effort and can be pursued in every quarter.

Sam SrivastavaChemical Engineering

Innovation: Learning Activity: Collaborative Annotation

The benefit of PAROSL is the input from your partner. And also, not having to worry about being evaluated—that was why I wanted to participate. It was for my own benefit because I wanted to improve the way I help students.

Hoang TruongItalian

Innovation: Pressing Students to Show Their [Cognitive] Work

Because student evaluations are only received once a course is completed, implementing course-specific changes to improve teaching can only occur the next time the course is taught, which may be as much as six months to a year later. At that point, it can be difficult to be in touch with what did and did not work the first time. Being able to reflect on my teaching practices and implement changes in real time over the course of a quarter was the real utility of PAROSL, and I perceived the quality of my teaching improving in practical, measurable degrees.

Adriana VasquezClassics

Innovation: Soliciting Student Feedback on Learning Activities

I learned a lot about my teaching practice and student learning from PAROSL, and I see these things as intertwined. In talking with Peggy at my final debrief, I came up with a new teaching motto for myself: “just ask.” I realized through this process that if I truly want to be a reflective teacher, I need to ask my students for feedback more regularly (not just at the midterm and end of the course), and that this feedback can be less formal. The several times that I’ve co-reflected with students this quarter while assignments are in progress have been immensely helpful.

Laurel WestrupWriting Programs

Innovation: Purposeful Pause and Think-Pair-Share

Before PAROSL, I was always concerned about how much material I covered in the lecture. I used to try very hard to cover as many topics as possible. During PAROSL, I learned what is more important is how much students have learned and remembered. Rather than covering every detail, I learned to focus on some key topics and to actively engage students. The PAROSL process helps me change my teaching style and hopefully improve my teaching, too.

Hongquan XuStatistics

Innovation: Bringing Active Learning with R Code into Lectures

The best part was being able to revamp my lectures because it’s been a few years. You know when you have something in your mind and you want to do it, but you don’t have the chance or you don’t get the time? PAROSL just forced me to really sit down and add some new ideas. And it gave me an opportunity to view someone else who’s doing the same thing. I had a chance to look at [my partner’s] examples and think, “oh, that’s a really good idea – I didn’t see it that way…okay, let me try that.” I was able to look at my own teaching from an outside perspective. That’s what I liked the most.

Linda ZanontianStatistics

Who can apply to PAROSL?

We welcome applications from pairs of UCLA faculty (including lecturers and adjunct and tenure-track faculty). Pairs should be from the same department or familiar enough with each other’s disciplines that they can discuss student learning in a meaningful way. Because you will be opening up your course to your colleague and engaging in authentic reflection about your practice, we suggest that you pair with a colleague you trust and communicate well with.

How much time does it take to participate in PAROSL?

  • PAROSL training (conducted at the beginning of the quarter): 2.25 hours
  • 2 planning meetings, 2 debrief meetings (for your cycle): 2.5 hours
  • 2 planning meetings, 2 reviews, 2 debrief meetings (for colleague’s cycle): 4.5 hours
  • Drafting the teaching innovation narrative: 3 hours (varies by individual)
  • Feedback to PAROSL researchers (at the end of the quarter): 0.75 hours
  • Total: 13 hours

What kind of instructors is PAROSL designed for?

PAROSL is designed to benefit all instructors—regardless of teaching experience, professional title, or time at UCLA—who are interested in collaboratively reflecting on and improving their practice. Departments may decide to use the process as an onboarding / acculturation activity for new faculty. Or they might decide to embed PAROSL in existing “teaching circles” or “pedagogical working groups,” or create such groups using PAROSL as a starting point.

What aspects of teaching does PAROSL focus on?

Conversations and reviews of lessons in PAROSL center on inclusive, student-centered teaching. In particular…

  • Articulating what students are supposed to learn
  • Figuring out where students are in their learning and responding to that information
  • Engaging students in active learning
  • Creating and maintaining learning environments that work for all students

How does PAROSL fit into the "peer evaluation of teaching" that is required in all merit / promotion cases?

PAROSL can be an important part of a teaching dossier for merit / promotion, but it is not designed to evaluate teaching directly. Instead, the program helps faculty develop “new and effective techniques of instruction, including techniques that meet the needs of students from groups that are underrepresented in the field of instruction” (from the Academic Personal Manuel, section 210-1, p. 5.). This development is documented in the teaching innovation narrative, written by the instructor themself.

I’m familiar with peer observation in a classroom setting, but how does the process work for remote or online teaching?

PAROSL currently supports instructors whose courses include synchronous learning (i.e., the instructor teaches over Zoom). Your PAROSL partner conducts their observations by joining these synchronous lessons.