As with scholarship, effective teaching takes place in a community, one that generates and analyzes data, draws on research, and develops in collegial, public, and private conversations. Peer review is commonly used for scholarly activities in generative, instructional, and evaluative ways. Teaching is a scholarly activity, and there is ample evidence for peer review of teaching as a practice.
While the UW Faculty Code calls for peer review in service of effective teaching, the specific goals and practices that support these goals are left to academic departments to determine (see Faculty Code 24-32 & 24-57). Some departments approach peer review as purely formative assessment, others as evaluative, and still others blend the two with formative-focused conversations and written evaluations, for example. Like self-assessment and student evaluation, peer review is only as valuable as it is thoughtful and follows evidence-based practice. When thoughtfully constructed, peer evaluation protocols can avoid problems such as overly positive and non-meaningful feedback and help to address instructors’ concerns and resistance to peer review.
Effective peer review is a collaborative process between colleagues with reciprocal benefits. There is great value in being observed by peers, just as there is a large benefit to the observer who inevitably learns more about teaching through observing others. Strong peer evaluation involves conversations that identify areas for improvement or refinement as well as strengths.
Research: Department recommendations
We recommend that departments use the following practices to develop or focus conversation around peer review:
Begin with department-wide clarity on peer review practices
Begin with department-wide clarity on peer review practices, including what is considered effective teaching. Are there shared common disciplinary and/or evidence-based practices? What is the range of views and practices on effective teaching and to what degree does the department want to define norms in regard to teaching? This might be done, for example, through department-wide discussion or the formation of a one-year teaching assessment committee to determine purposes and protocols around peer observation.
Articulate purposes and protocols explicitly for use in evaluation
Articulate these purposes and protocols explicitly for use in evaluation generally, and for promotion and review committees in particular, both departmental and college-wide. Topics and questions to address include:
- Using peer review: What are departmental expectations and purposes for peer review? How might peer review be used for supporting the professional development and growth of both the person under review and the observer? Can peer review be used for formative as well as evaluative purposes? For example, some departments provide formative feedback verbally and summative feedback in writing.
- Defining and selecting a peer: Which faculty and instructors perform peer review and how do we define “peer” in this context? A faculty member in the same department? The same area of the field? At the same rank or higher? Also, experimenting with the same innovation? For example, some departments pre-select reviewers either with specific pedagogical expertise or provide guidance for this role, while others provide more general guidelines and allow instructors to select and invite peers they wish to review.
- Frequency of review: How many peer observations or reviews should take place per year? Some models of peer observation favor pairs, triads, or quartets of colleagues. If the department selects such a model, a “norming” or reconciliation discussion often takes place among the observers before they meet with the instructor to ensure more consistent and coherent feedback.
- Choosing criteria: What criteria will reviewers use in this process? While many institutions suggest using a shared rubric or template for observations, the best templates allow for diverse practices, recognizing that effective teaching is not limited to one specific approach or set of practices.
- Standardizing protocol: What is the expected protocol that reviewers and reviewees are to follow? Once departmental guidelines have been established, faculty should be provided with a standard protocol. For an example of one department’s protocol and feedback template, see Asian Languages & Literature (PDF).
Sample protocol for effective peer review
1. Meet to clarify goals
The reviewee describes the course and may share course materials (such as syllabi and course websites) to provide context for the observation. What elements of the course help students learn? What are the challenges? What kind of feedback will the reviewer find most useful?
2. Agree on a protocol for teaching observation
What are the observable practices that the department considers useful? Will the peer reviewer look for all of them or just some? What kind of protocol is broad enough to encourage diverse practices and innovations while precise enough so that colleagues are looking to answer the same questions about a peer’s teaching? How many times will the reviewer observe and for what period of time?
3. Follow up with a conversation
The peer reviewer describes what they observed and speaks, if possible, to the reviewee’s specific questions. The conversation focuses on observed effective practice, open-ended questions, and the reviewee’s goals.
4. Collaborate on writing a summary report
Describe the conversation, which may include observable strengths of the class session and related materials as well as what could be improved or refined, why, and how.
Advice for review and promotion
For chairs and committees
Be explicit about the purposes of peer review and the protocols that the department has established for it. Clearly communicate guidelines for peer review protocols including a range of established norms and practices for effective teaching.
Account for variables
Consider factors such as: what were the criteria for the review? How was “peer” defined, and who did the reviewing? How long ago was the review? Was more than one review conducted, and if so, what seems consistent or inconsistent?
Value openness to feedback
Look for evidence that the instructor took peer feedback seriously and is pedagogically flexible enough to incorporate new ideas.
Consider the review in relation to other forms of feedback and in dialogue with the other forms of evaluation. Was there constructive criticism? How is the peer review best understood when considered in context of multiple forms of feedback and evaluation for the instructor?
Be transparent with your peer reviewer
Early in the process, discuss your teaching goals and what you hope to gain from the experience. Specify aspects of your teaching that would be most useful to receive feedback about the type of feedback that would best support your goals.
Follow unit norms and expectations
Consider what practices and approaches to teaching the department considers useful; in selecting a peer reviewer, consider whose assessments will matter most to chairs and committees.
Present the review itself as one component of the peer evaluation: Describe how you worked with your reviewer, set goals and expectations, and responded to feedback. Also, contextualize the course and its goals; do not expect that context to be self-evident.
Reference specific, meaningful feedback
Avoid any vague or generalized statements. Instead, focus on specific activities, materials, practices, and/or approaches on which your peer provided targeted and useful feedback.
Demonstrate growth and flexibility
In very specific terms, describe what actions you took to incorporate feedback from the report into your teaching, and why you found the experience valuable. Do not be afraid to include areas for improvement reflected by feedback— and then speak specifically about what you did to address them. How was the feedback received?
- Brent, R. and Felder, R.M. (2013). A Protocol for Peer Review of Teaching. Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition.
- Campbell, E. (2017). The value of the non-evaluative: Rethinking faculty observation. In The City University of New York Graduate Center Learning Collective and Hilarie Ashton (Ed.), Structuring equality: A handbook for student centered learning and teaching practices (pp. 109-130). HASTAC@Duke.
- Canterbury Christ Church University (2013). Rapport POR: Peer Observation and Review of Teaching and Learning Guide (PDF).
- Gormally, C., Evans, M., Brickman, P. (2014 summer). Feedback about teaching in higher ed: Neglected opportunities to promote change (PDF). CBE – Life sciences education,13, pp. 187-199.
- Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching (2017). Possible Limitations of Peer Review.
- See the section “Resolving concerns about peer review” (pp. 5-7) in Brent, R. and Felder, R.M. (2013). A Protocol for Peer Review of Teaching (PDF). Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition.
- Dayton University Learning Teaching Center (n.d.). Evaluation of Faculty: Methods of Evaluation (PDF).
- See appendices in: Campbell, E. (2017). The value of the non-evaluative: Rethinking faculty observation. In The Graduate Center Learning Collective City University of New York and Hilarie Ashton (Ed.), Structuring equality: A handbook for student centered learning and teaching practices (PDF) (pp. 109-130). HASTAC@Duke.