Peer Review of Teaching

Peer Review of Teaching

Introduction

Peer review provides informed considerations of a candidate’s teaching that student ratings cannot address: breadth, depth, and rigor of course objectives and materials; patterns of and procedures for course management; and a contextualized sense of the interactions between teacher and students as a whole. 

Peer review typically has two modes: review of course materials, and class observations.

As with reviewing a piece of academic writing, a response to someone’s teaching (in either mode) might be formative (providing feedback for revision and improvement) or summative (providing an evaluation or judgment, typically through a rating or score). The most appropriate focus for peer review of an instructor’s teaching for use in a personnel document is formative review, as it seeks to track the ongoing development and growth of the individual’s teaching. 

Colleagues are best qualified to evaluate the candidate's breadth and depth of subject matter knowledge, course design skills, and assessment strategies for determining students' learning of course material. The information necessary for colleagues and peers to evaluate these kinds of skills must be thorough without being redundant. 

Peer review is also a dialectic practice: one learns from observing others as well.

Recommendations

For both tenure and promotion, it is recommended that reviews take place over a series of semesters rather than only in one semester. It is recommended that for pre-tenure faculty, peer review should be conducted roughly once per semester, although not necessarily for each course taught; this allows the individual to focus on improvement.

When identifying colleagues to review teaching, make explicit the reviewer’s familiarity with teaching in the candidate’s content area and course “genre.”

In ideal circumstances, local observers should be trained to review peers’ work. Units should develop and articulate specific criteria; observers’ reports should speak to these department- or school-specific guidelines.

General Guidelines for Reviewing Teaching

  • Focus primarily upon course materials.  Course materials provide a broader view of the goals and methods involved in teaching, while isolated classroom visits provide only a narrow window into the complexity of a full semester.
  • Use multiple sources of data for each course.  Review a broad collection of syllabi, assignments, lecture notes, examples of feedback to students, modules, tests, rubrics, supplemental materials, online activities/tools. Typically, these could be included in teaching portfolios or course portfolios.
  • Consider several courses’ materials, collected over time, in the review. These courses should cover the spectrum of “genre”—seminar, online, introductory, required, etc.—and should be considered, as with research, within the broad context of the candidate’s time in rank and not within the semester or year preceding submission of the dossier.
  • Classroom observations should be formalized and consistent. Reviews should be conducted by outside experts in teaching, internal teaching experts, or by colleagues the department/school. Observations should follow an established protocol consistent throughout the unit. DeZure (1999) suggests the use of multiple observers, multiple observations, and standardized training for those providing feedback.
  • Provide latitudinal structure for observation. Observations of teaching should be made over time and in several courses, seeking to document a pattern of growth rather than a one-time summative assessment.
  • Take a broad view of teaching. Departments should take into consideration the myriad ways in which faculty interact with students within their disciplines—directing theses, mentoring students, supervising them in labs, etc.—and include appropriate items in their processes for peer review.
  • Standardize procedures for both summative and formative review: To create consistency and because peer observation may not be statistically reliable, it is best if structured, with standardized observation procedures and criteria, including standardized observer selection criteria. All reviews should be guided by a standard document agreed upon within the department/school. The chair should provide a copy of protocols and procedures used in conducting and reporting on observations as part of the candidate’s dossier.
  • Documentation should focus on development and patterns.  As faculty members gather materials for the dossiers, they should seek to identify patterns of growth over time, using the various types of evidence to tell the story of their development.

Reviewing Collected Course Materials

Regardless of the method of course delivery, reviews should be focused on formative response.  Course materials should be broadly considered; all artifacts from a course are viable sources of information. Whether outside or local experts in teaching or colleagues within the department/school, reviewers of course materials should consider the following aspects of all courses selected for review:

Course content:

  • Is the material in this course appropriate for the topic, appropriate for the curriculum and institution?
  • Is the content related to current issues and developments in the field?
  • Is there intellectual coherence to the course content?
  • Are the intellectual goals for students well articulated and congruent with the course content and mission?

Classroom practices:

  • Is the contact time with students well organized and planned, and if so, are the plans carried out?
  • How much of the time are students actively engaged in the material?
  • Are there opportunities (in or out of class) for students to practice the skills embedded in course goals?
  • Are there particularly creative or effective uses of contact time that could improve student understanding?
  • Are there any course structures or procedures that contribute especially to the likely achievement of understanding by students?

Student learning/engagement   

  • Is the performance asked of students appropriate for course goals, level of course, and for the institution? 
  • Does the performance requested include challenging levels of conceptual understanding and critical evaluation of the material appropriate to the level of the course and of the students?
  • Are students being asked to demonstrate competence in the stated course goals? If not, is it possible to identify why?
  • Are there obvious changes in the course that could improve performance?
  • Are the forms of evaluation and assessment appropriate to the stated goals of the course?
  • Are they particularly creative or do they provide students with opportunities to demonstrate their understanding using intellectual skills typical of the field?
  • Is the weighting of course assignments in grade calculation coordinated with the relative importance of the course goals?

Reflection and revision

  • Has the faculty member made a sincere effort to insure that students achieve the course goals?
  • Has the faculty member identified any meaningful relationship between what (s)he teaches and how students perform?
  • Is there evidence the faculty member has changed teaching practices based on past teaching experiences?
  • Is there evidence of insightful analysis of teaching practice that resulted from consideration of student performance?

* The above list is used with permission of Daniel Berstein (November 2005 Teaching Matters, Kansas University Center for Teaching Excellence).

Providing Classroom Observation

  • Frequency and duration:  observations should be conducted more than once in a semester; peer reviewers should observe the entire class period.
  • Department- or school-level protocols: Observations should be recorded in light of the department-specified criteria or checklist. These criteria should
    • Focus on conceptual aspects (see list above), and not on superficial or personality-specific items (such as dress or sense of humor).
    • Be relevant to the “genre” of the course (required, online, large, seminar, etc.)
    • Be aware of the class’s place within the semester (early on? Later? After a major exam?)
  • Selection of observers: Observations should be made by more than one individual; the chair or dean should determine how reports from those observations should be coordinated (whether synthesized or presented individually, for example; a synthesized report might provide a clearer sense of the candidate’s teaching, and can point out or mediate differences among responses).
  • Preparation for review: Reviewers should communicate with the candidate both before (at which time the candidate provides context for class that day) and after the class meeting (to solicit candidate’s response to the class).
  • Record-keeping: Observers should record their observation in light of department/school criteria. The chair should provide a copy of the checklist and protocols used in conducting and reporting on observations.
  • Follow-up: Reviewers should consult with the candidate before (to discuss the context for and goals/plans for that particular day’s class) and after the observation (to solicit the candidate’s sense of the session). Candidates might consider having the class videotaped to facilitate discussion with the reviewer.

Items Specific to Observation of Online Courses

Online class observations should focus on the same criteria as those stated above (content, classroom practice, etc.) for face-to-face classes. As with face-to-face instruction, the department or school should provide a protocol for observations, including training for those observers.  

  • Selection of observers: Best practices suggest that reviewers should have expertise in teaching online. Should no colleagues within the department/school have such experience, it is recommended that the chair seek out colleagues from allied departments or disciplines who have taught online.
  • Frequency and duration:  observers should sit in on synchronous meetings more than once during the course (if applicable; the chair or committee should determine the number of sessions); peer reviewers may wish to participate in the course in the role as a student for a pre-determined amount of time to observe more than one instructional unit or module.
  • Examples of effective guides for on-line course review are available from the University of Central FloridaChico State University, and Penn State University.