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Peer Review

Benefits of Peer Review of Teaching

Student feedback ratings traditionally play a dominant role as indicators of effective teaching. Increasingly, other evaluative approaches and data sources are used to assess teaching quality, such as academic colleagues reviewing peer’s teaching and providing feedback.
 
Students are well placed to comment on many aspects of classroom teaching (e.g. clarity of presentation, interpersonal rapport with students, and concern for students’ progress). Academic colleagues, on the other hand, are better qualified to meaningfully evaluate other aspects of teaching (e.g. mastery of content, course goals, course organisation and materials). Further, the work of an individual faculty member is more highly valued if it has been subjected to rigourous peer review. In the same way that research quality due to dialogue and debate among disciplinary peers, so would the quality of teaching benefit from similar opportunities.
 
Accordingly, some researchers have put forward a multi-dimensional view of scholarship that embraces both teaching and research, and they are changing how people view and value faculty roles and responsibilities, commonly referred to as the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Reinforcing this point, twenty six professional societies have published discipline-specific rationales for restructuring faculty roles and responsibilities to evaluate and reward teaching in ways comparable to research. 
 

SMU Context

In 2006, the External Review Panel recommended a holistic evaluation of teaching in SMU that includes peer review. This led to the development of the Peer~Care Programme to promote formative and summative peer review.
  1. Formative peer review is intended for the developmental increments and improvements in teaching practices. Referred to as peer coaching in SMU, the programme is managed by CTE. Schools also advocate informal pairing of junior faculty members with experienced faculty members.
  2. Summative peer review focuses on providing judgmental and comparative information for the faculty member about the status of his/her teaching practices, as well as for the purposes of institutional and programme accountability, policy, and decision making. In SMU, summative peer review is managed by the schools in ways that best fit their values, educational goals and expectations. 
Summative peer review that is led by the individual schools allows for disciplinary pedagogical to influence, shape and inform the evaluation process.
  1. Disciplinary differences influence the nature and construction of pedagogical content knowledge, views of what constitutes effective teaching, and how it should be evaluated. This in turn, impacts the relative emphasis on teaching methods and practices, perspectives on curriculum and assessment, and students’ beliefs about the nature of knowledge and learning.
  2. Indeed, a universally accepted definition of effective teaching at the university level has proven elusive, notwithstanding myriad attempts at identifying the characteristics of effective teaching using various theoretical perspectives and a range of qualitative and quantitative approaches. Nonetheless, there are learner-centred, active learning principles that serve to guide evaluations of teaching. For example, the Learning Sciences at the University of Texas, Austin, has explored how significant learning can be created across disciplines, and synthesised recurring components of good teaching in educational research into a set of elements that serves as a possible starting point for pedagogically informed peer review (click here). This may be used in tandem with the Peer Selector Tool, which generates customisable observation forms with desired criteria and standards to suit individual review needs (click here).
 To promote a culture of scholarly and collegial peer review process within the schools, CTE recommends the following:
  1. Appoint experienced faculty members and build their capacity and leadership to be peer reviewers. Peer reviewers should receive training that includes opportunities to discuss methods, criteria, and standards for assessment using portfolios that have been previously rated high or low.
  2. A formative review followed by summative evaluation over an extended period acclimatise faculty members with the nature of the data, methods, and criteria that are eventually used for the higher-stake summative evaluation. There is opportunity to strive to improve performance before formal assessment.
  3. Establish clear guidelines and criteria for teaching effectiveness in the respective disciplines. Identify the types of evidence expected and standards against which faculty members will be evaluated on, and promote the use of teaching portfolios. 
     

Teaching Portfolios

The use of teaching portfolios is growing and the research on its reliability for teaching evaluation is promising. The literature recommends that evaluation of teaching for personnel decisions be multi-dimensional: the teaching portfolio should include evidence from multiple sources (faculty members, students, alumni, peers and relevant others), multiple kinds of evidence (ratings, reflective statements, narrative appraisals, artefacts of teaching such as syllabi, assessment, teaching resources and students’ work), and be done over an extended period of time.
 

Principles And Guiding Questions

The following guiding principles are instructive:
  1. Evaluation of teaching must be done in a systematic, thoughtful manner.
  2. Provisions must be made for both formative evaluation (for improvement) and summative evaluation (for personnel decision).
  3. Evaluation of teaching must be appropriate to the teaching context and pedagogies, and clear guidelines must be accessible to all. The school’s approach to evaluation of teaching and the place of peer review within that system should be clearly articulated and communicated to its faculty members.
  4. Extended and inclusive discussions take place between senior management and faculty members to develop suitable peer review processes.  Such discussions have the potential for initiating critical reflections on teaching that are developmental in themselves and help to clarify the pedagogical best practices for respective disciplines, as well as establish the idea of “teaching as community property”.
  5. Clarify the expectations that institutions and departments have for their faculty members and which faculty members have for their own performance, are central to a successful faculty evaluation system. 

    Related to item 5, the following may be used as guiding questions to drive such discussions:

    1. Who can benefit from evaluation of teaching in this school? Should it be restricted to new faculty members or extended to senior faculty members as well?
    2. How do we view the relation between the two purposes of evaluation (i.e. improvement purposes versus documentation for personnel decisions such as merit increases, promotion and tenure)? Are separate systems required? If not, how can we blend them?
    3. What areas of teaching will we assess?
    4. How specific can we be in articulating our standards in areas such as:
      • Effective course design
      • Effective classroom performance
      • Effective course materials (syllabi, handouts, tests, coursepacks)
      • Effective contributions to teaching within the discipline 
    5. What recommendations will we make on procedures for collecting evidence for those areas of teaching performance that we want to assess?
    6. How will we document and communicate our plan? How will we monitor our plan? How often should we revise our plan?
       

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Berk, R. A. (2006). Thirteen strategies to measure college teaching: A consumer's guide to rating scale construction, assessment, and decision making for faculty, administrators, and clinicians. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
  2. Boyer Ernest, L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
  3. Chism, N. (1999). Peer review of teaching. Bolton, MA: Anker Publications.
  4. Diamond, R. M., & Adam, B. E. (Eds.). (2000). The disciplines speak II: More statements on rewarding the scholarly, professional, and creative work of faculty. American Association for Higher Education.
  5. Hubball, H., & Clarke, A. (2011). Scholarly approaches to peer-review of teaching: Emergent frameworks and outcomes in a research-intensive university. Transformative Dialogues Journal, 4(3), 1-32.
  6. Hutchings, P. (1996). Making teaching community property: A menu for peer collaboration and peer review. Stylus Pub Llc.
  7. Paulsen, M. B. (2002). Evaluating teaching performance. New Directions for Institutional Research, 2002(114), 5-18.
  8. Seldin, P. (1993). Successful Use of Teaching Portfolios. Anker Publishing Co., Inc., 176 Ballville Rd., PO Box 249, Bolton, MA 01740-0249.
  9. Shulman, L. S. (1993). Forum: teaching as community property: putting an end to pedagogical solitude. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning,25(6), 6-7.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCE

Peer Review of Teaching in Australian Higher Education - developed through a collaborative project involving: Centre for the Study of Higher Education, The University of Melbourne Centre for Educational Development and Interactive Resources, University of Wollongong Supported by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC)

Last updated on 25 May 2017 .