Effective peer review should be a supportive activity, used both formatively and summatively.
Peer review allows instructors to self-assess their courses and class interactions in order to help them meet their personal and departmental goals for effective teaching, and to see their instruction through another colleague’s perspective. Another hallmark of peer review is agreed-upon measures and protocols. Ideally, these criteria are established collaboratively by the department’s or School’s faculty so that everyone agrees upon (or at least understands) the standards and the processes. A good place to start is by looking at established practices first and then using them as a heuristic to devise tools that are context-specific.
Just as faculty regularly learn how to improve their research designs, writing productivity, or mentoring skills, enhancing teaching one’s teaching is a healthy part of a successful academic career.
The information below is divided into two sections. The first is for individual instructors who wish to organize a single peer review to enhance their own teaching (and produce a useful record of this work, such as for an academic review dossier). The second is for deans and department members who are considering creating a culture of regular, supportive peer review within their departments.
If you are interested in a formative peer review of your course and teaching, the most important first step is to find an evaluator whom you trust and can learn from. This doesn’t need to be someone from within your department, since content knowledge is not one of the aspects of your teaching that will be directly addressed. Consider asking someone from a different department, different school, or from the Center for Engaged Instruction. Ideally, however, you should use a tool with departmentally-agreed upon criteria that is congruent with whatever summative peer review tool will be used in personnel decisions.
It’s helpful to outline what you will ask the evaluator to do–you will be providing them with course materials (syllabus, access to your course website, sample exams and homework assignments), likely meeting with them twice over coffee, and asking them to fill out an evaluation. A 3-4 hour commitment is appropriate.
Review forms come in many different formats. We have linked several below, and you can certainly adjust them to suit the needs of your particular course–obviously, a studio art class would need a different rubric than a large engineering lecture or a language course. The CEI suggests the following process:
1. Decide the format for the observation: in-person or via media
Most reviewers will sit in on the class and be physically present; however, an alternative is to have the Center for Engaged Instruction film the session. The instructor then can either have a CEI consultant conduct the formative assessment or have a colleague conduct it. (Note: the CEI conducts only formative assessments.) As long as there will be a consultation, the CEI will provide the reviewer with either a link to the video or a DVD so that she or he may watch it at their convenience. (Some instructors include their DVDs in their Teaching Portfolios.) There is no charge for this service provided there is a pedagogical consultation that accompanies the filming.
2. Conduct a pre-observation meeting
The instructor and reviewer should try to connect at least two weeks before an observation. Create a Pre-Observation Form (see sample form below) in order to get some context for the observation. (While it is better to meet in person to garner this information, it can also be sent to the instructor for them to complete and return to the observer.) This is also a good time to request a copy of the course syllabus, the day’s lesson plan, and any other handouts/readings/materials pertinent to the day’s lesson.
Review together the actual Peer Review Rubric to clarify any of the items. If you are the instructor, inform the reviewer of any particular issues, concerns, or behaviors on which you especially want feedback.
If you are the reviewer, explain to the instructor the observation protocol so s/he knows what to expect. For example, you might tell her/him that you will arrive five minutes before class in case there are any last minute changes. Tell the instructor where you’ll be sitting and whether you’ll be taking handwritten or e-notes, and that you will stay for the duration of the class meeting. We generally recommend that for smaller classes where a newcomer’s presence is likely to be noticed, that the instructor explain who the individual is and why s/he is there (i.e., “I want to help you to learn in this class as much as I can; my colleague is here to give me some feedback on how I might enhance your learning.”) (Note: if people filmed, you should tell the students ahead of time and ask anyone who does not want to be on camera to sit behind the camera operator. Reassure them that the video is confidential and that it will only be seen by you, the reviewer, and the camera operator.)
3. During the observation
There is no one best way to take notes during an observation. For formative assessment, however, as noted, detailed notes are better. Observable behaviors (both the instructors’ and students’), as well as concrete examples are the most helpful. Double-entry narratives are also useful: write observations on the left-hand side of the page with analysis on the right. If using a form, an e-version will make it easier to expand space for writing comments. (Having a video record of the session can be especially helpful for additional reference.)
3. Conduct a post-observation meeting
Timely feedback is the most useful (within two weeks of the observation). Written feedback with consultation quadruples the likelihood of significant teaching improvement than without it. In fact, according to researchers (see Penny & Coe, 2004), no other form of teaching augmentation is nearly as beneficial.
- Pre-observation meeting form
- Blank Observation form
- Detailed Evaluation form (TIP: If you’re having trouble determining what to look for when observing teaching, use this form as a reference.)
- Post-observation meeting form
University of Michigan: This form used is campus-wide and is purposefully very open-ended: Link, scroll to the bottom to Peer Observation of Teaching Protocol.
Developing Departmental Peer Evaluation Guidelines
If you are a Chair or Dean, you may be interested in creating resources for appropriate and effective peer teaching support in your discipline. The CEI suggests the following:
1. Keep it context-specific
For any kind of peer review guidelines to work, it’s important that they reflect the context in which the review will take place with input from those who will be affected by the peer review; in addition, the learning outcomes set by the department for the course, the major, and the degree should be integrated as well.
2. Standardize the tools and procedures
The best way to get agreement on standards and to ultimately save time in the long run is to collaboratively create the tools and procedures on which you have consensus. If not perfect, the tools and procedures should at least have criteria with which the members of the department can live.
3. Make peer review of teaching part of a larger teaching effort
The primary goal of peer review is really formative and summative assessment for the purposes of improving student learning; personnel decisions should be secondary. Enhancing teaching skills ideally should also be an important part of continuing professional development for all instructors, at all levels, rather than an occasional requirement for some instructors some times. The feedback should also be balanced, highlighting both commendations and recommendations.
Ideally, peer review is voluntary; however, as it becomes part of a larger culture of continuing professional development in instruction, it is more likely to be a normal expectation.
4. Combine formative and summative reviews
As noted, peer review, to do the most good, needs to include both formative and summative measures, using tools and procedures appropriate to each. Formative assessment is generally much more detailed, and occurs at regularly-scheduled intervals; summative evaluation is more normative and also scheduled much farther in advance. Formative tools should have the same key items embedded in them that will also be on the summative assessment in order to show progress as well as to inform the recipient of the criteria for review.
The Center for Engaged Instruction (CEI) is happy to conduct no-charge formative assessments, using a tool devised by a department or the Midterm Feedback Form available through EEE; however, CEI consultations need to be confidential. It will be up to the instructor to elect to share details of the consultation.
In the case of formative assessment for Teaching Assistants, however, if a formative assessment with the CEI is a requirement of being a TA for your course, we will arrange to let you know whether the TAs in question have participated as directed.
Not surprisingly, most rubrics need a little tweaking. Before settling on your definitive Peer Review of Teaching Rubric, practice using it on one another before it has to be used “for real.” It will help you to both decide on fine tuning and help build your comfort-level with the form.
New hires benefit from getting a copy of the rubrics at the beginning of their employment so there are no surprises.
The Center for Engaged Instruction is available for free one-on-one consultations about effective peer review of teaching and other documentation of your teaching. We also offer:
- Regular workshops on a variety of pedagogical topics
- Workshops personalized for departments or units to maximize discipline-specific teaching (including peer-review of teaching)
- A selection of curated online resources on teaching and learning
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a meeting or to get more information.
Arreola, R.A. (2007). Developing a Comprehensive Faculty Evaluation System: A Guide to Designing, Building, and Operating Larger-Scale Evaluation Systems (3rd edition). Bolton, MA.: Anker Press.
Boyer, Ernest (2016). Scholarship Reconsidered: The Priorities of the Professoriate (expanded edition). Moser, Drew, Ream, Todd, and Braxton, John M., editors. Wiley Publishers.
Chism, Nancy Van Note (2007). Peer Review of Teaching: A Sourcebook (2nd edition). Bolton, MA: Anker Press.
Hutchings, Patricia (1996). The peer review of teaching: progress, issues, and prospects. Innovative Higher Education, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp.221-234. Kluwer Academic Publishers-Human Sciences Press.
Penny, Angela R., Coe, Robert (2004). Effectiveness of consultation on student rating feedback: a meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 74: 215.
Pister, Karl (1991). Report of the Universitywide Task Force on Faculty Rewards. University of California.