A holistic approach to the review of teaching

A vase next to a mirrorTeaching is often reviewed for one of two purposes:

  • to encourage the development of teaching (formative)
  • to judge the quality of teaching for decision-making purposes (summative)

The development of teaching and the evaluation of teaching should work hand-in-hand. When the aspects of teaching to be evaluated are clearly articulated, an intentional approach to teaching development can be taken. Therefore, before an instructor's teaching is evaluated for decision-making purposes, ideally he or she will have had multiple opportunities to receive feedback on and learn from their practice.

Peer review of teaching (PRT) is one aspect of a comprehensive system of teaching review that involves gaining insight about teaching from a variety of sources, such as students, peers, an instructor's own reflections, and research on one’s classroom practices (Chism, 2007) (Please see Figure 1 below). While student review of teaching is the most prevalent form of teaching review, review of teaching by peers may lead to insights about teaching that are not captured through course evaluation questionnaires, such as the currency and accuracy of course content.

Peer review of teaching involves colleagues making evidence-based judgments about each other’s teaching. Reservations about PRT are understandable – reservations, for example, related to standards of evaluation, the skill of reviewers, reliability and validity of information gathered, privacy, vulnerability, and the time involved in conducting reviews.

Research shows, however, that when thoughtfully designed and implemented, a peer review of teaching system may “increase the value of teaching” in the academic unit, and promote the development of instructors’ teaching practice (Chism, 2012). The scholarly peer review of teaching proposed here may provide a powerful means for promoting teaching development, enhancing the quality of teaching, and supporting the development of student learning. It may help create an environment where teaching and instructors thrive in the service of student learning.

Relationships between evaluation of teaching by self, peers, and students to teaching development and evaluation

Figure 1. A holistic approach to the review of teaching

A scholarly approach to the peer review of teaching

Similar to the scholarly approach and standards of excellence we apply to research at Waterloo, teaching and its assessment should also be seen as scholarly activities (Boyer, 1990). The review of teaching is an intentional process – one that is carefully designed, situated in context, and leads to interpreting teaching effectiveness based on multiple sources and types of evidence. Process of reviewing teaching; from determining which aspects to review, through gathering data, through interpreting the data, through communicating feedback to reviewing the process

Foundational principles

  1. Defining effective teaching in context

    Multiple contexts influence teaching: disciplinary, departmental, institutional, etc. These contexts shape what constitutes effective teaching and which aspects of teaching are valued and attended to. The design of a scholarly approach to PRT is attentive to and rooted in local contexts.

    • How is effective teaching defined in your discipline and department/school?
    • What ways of teaching are valued in your discipline and in your department/school?
    • What kind of student learning is valued by your department/school? By the University?
  2. Determining purpose

    Teaching is often only reviewed for summative purposes. Ideally, however, instructors will receive multiple opportunities to have their teaching reviewed formatively (for developmental purposes) before a judgment for decision-making purposes is made. Ongoing review and feedback provide an opportunity for instructors to reflect on feedback, integrate this feedback, and improve their practice before evaluation occurs.

    • For what reasons is teaching being reviewed in your department/school?
    • Are instructors given formative feedback before being evaluated?
  3. Ensuring validity and reliability

    A scholarly approach to the peer review of teaching will seek “a confluence of evidence that … allows us to feel confident about our observations, interpretations, and conclusions” (Eisner, 1991, p. 110) related to the effectiveness of an instructor’s teaching. This involves drawing on a range of sources (qualitative and quantitative) and using multiple methods to gather information about teaching, gathering information/evidence over a sustained period of time, and using validation strategies to determine the accuracy of interpretations of observations.

    • Are multiple sources of evidence being used in your department/school to review and evaluate teaching?
    • Are multiple people involved in the review, rather than relying on one person?
    • What strategies might be used to ensure that interpretations of teaching effectiveness are accurate and perceived as fair by the instructor being reviewed?

Steps for designing a scholarly peer review of teaching system

  1. Determine aspects of teaching to review

    Teaching involves a range of dimensions that may be reviewed (Hubball & Clarke, 2011); however, regardless of the key area(s) of focus, reviews should document the context in which teaching occurs. Context may involve identifying teaching workload, types of courses being taught, number and level of students enrolled in courses, etc. With the context identified, PRT may focus on one or more of the following dimensions:

    • Process: Review of teaching process may focus on the practice of teaching, such as course design, class planning, the use of specific teaching methodologies, and the design of instructional and assessment materials. This is the most common approach, but does not provide the whole story.
    • Critical incidents: The analysis of critical incidents, or events within teaching practice which an instructor perceives as particularly significant, may be very insightful. Events are analysed by the instructor to determine what happened and to understand the reasons underlying their occurrence (Tripp, 1993). Discussing a critical incident with a peer may provide an alternative interpretation of the event and help determine ways in which the incident may be addressed.
    • Outcomes: Review of teaching outcomes may focus on aspects such as student learning outcomes and the nature, range, and quality of work produced by students.
  2. Gather data about teaching

    There are several decisions to be made regarding the ways in which data about teaching will be gathered: deciding what data about teaching to gather, determining when and how often to collect data, and identifying who will be involved.

    • What:

      • While this is often limited to observations of instruction, there exist many possible sources of data, such as syllabi, course materials, assignments, samples of feedback on student work, the instructor’s statement of teaching philosophy, etc.
      • How can tools (e.g., templates, checklists, guiding questions, rating scales, etc.) be designed to gather this information in a consistent way?
    • When and how often

      • Will teaching be reviewed once, or multiple times? Will it be reviewed during one course, or in various courses?
      • At what point(s) during the term/year will evidence be gathered? At what point(s) during an instructor’s career?
    • Who

      • Will the reviewers be peers with the same level of experience, more senior colleagues, a teaching mentor, or the director or chair?
  3. Interpret data

    Once information about teaching has been gathered, it must be interpreted. Several decisions must be made in the interpretation process: determining how interpretations will be made – that is, determining the criteria and standards that will be used to make the interpretations; determining when interpretations will occur relative to the gathering of data; and determining who will interpret the evidence gathered.

    • How:

      • For the aspect of teaching being observed, what are the crucial elements?
      • What are the expectations for performance on these elements?
      • Does the instructor’s practice “meet, surpass, or fall short of expectations” (Hubball & Clarke, 2011, p. 12)? How so?
    • When

      • Will interpretations occur immediately, or after a period of time?
    • Who:

      • What type of training will be provided to reviewers to ensure familiarity and consistency with the review methods being use?
      • Will the reviewers interpret the evidence? The instructor? The chair or director? Or perhaps some combination of these people?
  4. Communicate feedback

    Open, ongoing, and honest communication throughout the peer review of teaching process can serve to foster a positive atmosphere around the notion of teaching development and evaluation, as well as facilitate learning and collegiality. A key step in the communication process, though, involves communicating the results of the review.

    • To whom are interpretations communicated and in what format?
    • Does the language used encourage continued development of teaching
  5. Review the process

    A review of the process can provide insight into the aspects that have been effective and those that may be problematic.

    • After the peer review of teaching cycle has been completed, is there evidence that revisions may need to be made to the design and implementation of the process?
    • Is the existing PRT process streamlined enough to be sustainable?

Resources

Websites

Books and articles

  • Arreola, R. A. (2007).  Developing a comprehensive faculty evaluation system: A guide to designing, building, and operating large-scale faculty evaluation systems (3rd ed.).  Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.
  • Bell, M.  (2001).  Supported reflective practice: A programme of peer observation and feedback for academic teaching development.  The International Journal for Academic Development,6, 29-39. doi:10.1080/1360144010033643
  • Blackmore, J. A. (2005).  A critical evaluation of peer review via teaching observation within higher education.  International Journal of Educational Management, 19, 218-232.  doi:10.1108/09513540510591002
  • Boyer, E. L. (1990).  Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate.  Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. 
  • Brookfield, S. D. (1995).  Becoming a critically reflective teacher.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Chism, N. V. N. (1999/2007).  Peer review of teaching: A sourcebook.  Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.
  • Chism, N. V. N. (2012, February).  Peer review of teaching: Maximizing gains, minimizing risks.  Workshop facilitated at the University of Windsor, Windsor, Canada.
  • Eisner, E.  (1991).  The enlightened eye: Qualitative inquiry and the enhancement of educationalpractice.  New York, NY: Prentice Hall.
  • Gosling, D., & O’Connor, K. M. (Eds.).  (2009, August).  Beyond the peer observation of teaching.  Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) Paper 124.
  • Hammersley-Fletcher, L., & Orsmond, P.  (2004).  Evaluating our peers: Is peer observation a meaningful process?  Studies in Higher Education, 29, 489-503. doi:10.1080/0307507042000236380
  • Hubball, H., & Clarke, A.  (2011).  Scholarly approaches to peer-review of teaching: Emergent frameworks and outcomes in a research-intensive university.  Transformative Dialogues: Teaching & Learning Journal, 4(3), 1-32.
  • Hutchings, P. (Ed.).  (1995).  From idea to prototype: The peer review of teaching: Materials, examples, analysis, and resources from a twelve-campus national project. Washington, DC: American Association for Higher Education.
  • National Research Council.  (2001).  Chapter 2: The nature of assessment and reasoning from evidence.  In Knowing what students know: The science and design of educational assessment (pp. 37-54).  Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
  • Tripp, D.  (1993).  Critical incidents in teaching: Developing professional judgement.  Oxon, UK: Routledge.

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