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This paper reports on outcomes from a cross-institutional peer observation programme for distance learning tutors - a joint initiative between the Universities of York (UK) and Waikato (New Zealand) - launched for the first time in 2015. The programme was conducted fully online and offered an opportunity for tutors from different institutions and national teaching contexts to address challenges in their practice and share innovations in online tutoring techniques. Participants were paired up and encouraged to collaborate through use of synchronous discussion tools and the mutual sharing of course sites within their institutional LMS platforms.
Evaluation of the participant experience revealed that the cultural and institutional differences between York and Waikato tutors were not insurmountable obstacles to effective peer exchange online and could be minimised through adequate preparation up front in defining respective programme cultures and ways of working. Partners who mastered this ‘norming’ phase in their relationship were able to move beyond agreed objectives for the observations to address deeper pedagogic discussions, challenging their views on institutional norms to assessment design and online support for student learning. Emergent themes for discussion between partners ranged from the merits of actively managing student learning online to the formality and tone of the tutor’s voice, focusing on language and modes of interactions with students. The study highlights the potential of cross-institutional peer observation to shine a light on institutional and personal ‘blind spots’ in tutoring techniques, stimulating deeper personal reflection on tutor identity and related strategies in managing student learning online.