Peer Review of Teaching
Peer review of teaching is a process where one faculty member observes another and gathers information about the latter’s effectiveness in the classroom. The teaching and learning processes are observed, noted and evaluated, as along with the educational environment established by the faculty member.
Distinction between Formative and Summative Peer Review
(Adapted from the Peer Review of Teaching Handbook, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis)
Formative Peer Review
Although peer review of teaching is commonly used to summatively evaluate teaching effectiveness, as is for example noted in the UNM Faculty Handbook, most authorities argue for using peer review in a formative fashion. Formative review emphasizes feedback for improving teaching and learning in the classroom. A single visit to a classroom is rarely sufficient to provide a full view of teaching effectiveness, which is why many people argue against using peer review as a summative evaluation. Formative peer review can be done at the request of the teachers, including requests to OSET for a peer review. A decision to work on one’s teaching may be motivated by personal goals, or by feedback from students or colleagues, or by a desire to address problems in a course. Whatever the motivation, a peer relationship for formative review should have the following characteristics:
1. The primary goal is enhancement of teaching and learning. The faculty member who requests a peer review may have several goals in mind, including tenure and/or promotion in the future. However, if the commitment to learning about, and potentially modifying, one’s teaching is not strong, the peer review process will not be productive.
2. Faculty ownership. It is essential that the faculty member's own goals for her/his teaching guide the process, even—indeed, especially—when the motivation to seek peer review is on the advice of the chair.
3. Confidentiality. The discussions of teaching take place between the faculty member and the peer consultant, and are not shared with others (chair, dean, etc.) unless the parties agree to change that expectation or such wider communication is adopted by department policy. Confidential discussions allow the peers to develop a relationship based on trust. Only in a trusting relationship can most faculty be open to reflecting on feedback and, upon reflection, perhaps to change something that they are currently doing in the classroom.
4. Relationship of equals. The colleagues work together for teaching enhancement and approach each other as equals, rather than a reviewer serving as the expert and the colleague being reviewed as an object of scrutiny. The process is consultative, not evaluative.
5. Collegial feedback. The colleague making an observation of a class, a review of a course syllabus, or other peer review provides feedback that is constructive and collegial rather than evaluative.
6. Open-ended process. Gaining insight into one’s teaching effectiveness often takes time. Therefore, a peer review consultation cannot be an isolated event, but must be ongoing. It should also be open-ended, depending on the progress the faculty member makes toward achieving her/his goals.
7. Multiple sources of information. The best feedback is based on several sources and not simply classroom visits. These sources may include but are not limited to teaching materials, classroom visits, written evaluations from students, conversations with students, videotapes of teaching, and the faculty member’s self-evaluations and teaching reflections.
Summative Peer Review
Summative reviews are done in order to evaluate a faculty member's work for annual reviews, tenure and promotion, teaching award nominations, etc. Such reviews take place whether the faculty member requests them or not. Summative review contrasts with formative in several respects:
1. The primary goal is to assess performance. A summative review of faculty work commonly includes goals for future growth and development, but the primary purpose of the review is still to assess the faculty member’s performance relative to criteria.
2. Criteria are set by others. In a summative review, the faculty member's goals are certainly relevant, but external criteria (departmental, school, institutional, etc.) are decisive. A summative review may involve discipline-based criteria (e.g., from accrediting agencies and standards boards) as well as criteria defined by the particular department, school, or institution. It is obvious but worth repeating that all parties involved must know what the criteria are. Currently, there are no institution-wide criteria for summative peer review of teaching at UNM.
3. Limited confidentiality. A summative review is semi-public in that others besides the person being reviewed will read the review. Reviews will be included in the faculty member’s promotion and tenure case.
4. Relationship of unequals. For summative review, the relationship between the reviewer and the person being reviewed is not a true peer relationship, even if, for example, the reviewed teacher and peer reviewer are close colleagues. The author of a summative review is required to make judgments of the other’s work and most often is expected to evaluate the work not only on its own merits but also in comparison to the work of others. Thus, the reviewer becomes a judge and is expected at least to some extent, to be an expert.
5. Evaluative feedback. The feedback from the author of a summative review should be couched in collegial and supportive language, but is nonetheless an evaluation.
6. Deadline-driven. The faculty member cannot set her/his own deadlines for review, but must meet deadlines set by the department, granting agency, etc.
7. Multiple sources of information? Ideally, a summative review of teaching, like a formative review, is based on multiple sources of information collected over time by means of multiple observations or other interactions between reviewer(s) and the faculty member. In practice, this is unfortunately often not the case. Too often, a summative review of teaching is based only (or primarily) on end-of-semester student evaluations and/or on a onetime observation visit by a colleague.