18 January 2009


STROBE is a classroom observation tool used by trained observers on learners without interfering with their activities. It yields quantitative data from brief observations of individual learners from around the classroom. The observation occur over 5-min "STROBE cycle" that is typically repeated from 8 to 10 times depending on the length of the class session. Each STROBE cycle proceeds as follows:

First, the observer writes down the following:
  • the start time of the cycle,
  • the subjects to be observed, whether it be "entire class", "subgroups", or any specific group,
  • the major activity, which can be "instructional", "procedural", or other,
  • the estimated portion of learners on task, which can be "all", "almost all", "half or less", etc.,
Next, the observer selects a learner from the class and observes the selected learner for 10 to 20 seconds, marking the type of engagement the learner exhibits, such as "talking", "listening", "reading", "writing", etc., and the object at whom the learner's engagement is directed ("other learners", "instructor", "self", etc.). This is repeated 4 times.

The observer also observes the instructor and marks the instructor's type and object of engagement. Finally, the observer also notes the number of questions students ask in the cycle.

What STROBE provides is a simple and effective way of gauging the level of engagement of students in the classroom, not necessary learning. It can also be skewed by untrained observers like me who did it for the first time in one of the CS classes recently. As a newbie to this, I found myself picking on the students who were not "norms" to be my targets, those who were working on their computers, those who were talking to other people, etc. I had to keep reminding to randomly pick students and not just the ones that catch my attention!


Kelly, P. , Haidet, P., Schneider, V., Searle, N., Seidel, C., Richards, B. (2005). A Comparison of In-Class Learner Engagement Across Lecture, Problem-Based Learning, and Team Learning Using the STROBE Classroom Observation Tool, Teaching and Learning in Medicine, Volume 17, Issue 2 April 2005 , pages 112 - 118

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