Skip to content

Peer review and evaluation

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 the value of 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 to the extent that 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 and significant benefit to the observer who inevitably learns more about teaching through the act of observing others. Strong peer evaluation involves conversations that identify both areas for improvement or refinement and strengths.

Recommendations for departments

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 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 teaching norms or standards? 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 how the peer review process will be used in evaluation generally and for promotion and review committees in particular, both departmentally and college-wide. Topics and questions to address might include:

  • Using peer review: What are the department’s expectations and purposes for peer review? How might peer review be used to support 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? 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 teaching 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.

Sample protocol for effective peer review

  1. Meet to clarify goals. The reviewee should describe 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 teaching practices and innovations, while remaining precise enough so that colleagues can all 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 should describe what they observed and speak, if possible, to any specific questions posed by the reviewee. The conversation should focus 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 and related materials, as well as areas that might be improved or refined. Include in your summary information about why improvements are needed and how they might be implemented.

Advice for review and promotion

For chairs and committees

  • Set expectations. 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.
  • Evaluate holistically. 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?

For instructors

  • 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.
  • Contextualize. 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?

Further reading

Further reading