Peer Review of Teaching Fact Sheet

What is peer review of teaching (PRT)?

  • “Peer review of teaching is a systematic, reflective process through which teaching colleagues offer instructors feedback about their teaching for either formative or summative purposes, based on multiple forms of data” (Chism 2017 in Wright 2014: 21). 
  • We use PRT specifically to mean peer observation of teaching, which is an intentional observation process where a peer observes an instructor with the aim of providing critical feedback, based on predetermined goals and purpose (Thomas et al. 2014: 117).
  • PRT review is used for different purposes or outcomes; PRT feedback may be used for development or improvement purposes (formative feedback) or for evaluation and appraisal (summative feedback) (see Gosling 2002).  
  • Peer review generally involves three steps or stages:

1. Pre-observation meeting (setting of observation goals and expectations, logistics, etc.; observer review of relevant materials such as syllabi, assignments, etc.).

2. Observation (in-class or online utilizing pre-determined tool).  

3. Post-observation meeting (instructor self-reflection, observer’s constructive feedback, discussion of strengths and opportunities as ‘critical friends,’ written report when applicable).

  • Observations may be done by a peer, in reciprocal pairs, as triads (includes external), or draw from peer review teams.
  • Observers utilize tools or instruments such as checklists (e.g. CTAPT Definition of Teaching Effectiveness), rubric, templates, general or focused guiding questions, or narrative logs to document qualitative evidence from observations for an evaluator to use in formative or summative assessments of teaching.
  • Frequency of peer review varies and depends on context; however, it should occur within a known cycle and ideally consist of multiple observations and/or observers. 

Why use peer review of teaching?

  • Facilitates professional development and growth:
    • Shown to enhance engagement in reflective practices.  
    • Shown to facilitate changes or innovation to teaching practices.  
  • Strengthens validity and reliability of the assessment of teaching by providing important evidence students are not able or knowledgeable enough to assess; provides “triangulation” of data.
  • Enhances opportunities for dialogue about teaching and learning and facilitates collegiality. 
  • Is often mutually beneficial for both the instructor being observed and the observer.  

Potential concerns or barriers to be overcome by the University of Waterloo

  • Time commitment – how to balance effectiveness of method with resources and scheduling availability. 
  • Unsure of procedures and/or how PRT will be used in a high-stake context. 
  • Lack of clear guidelines, criteria, tools or instruments, and training. 
  • Feedback that is too vague or too positive and thus not useful. 
  • Concerns about validity, reliability, and subjectivity. 
  • Reviewer bias towards own style or pedagogical approaches to teaching (or are not knowledgeable of certain pedagogical approaches). 
  • Concerns about observer’s lack of evaluation/observation skill or experience. 

Best practices

  • Establish clear processes and practical procedures (in consultation with Faculties) that acknowledge and value time for peer review.
  • The purpose, goals, and use (formative or summative) of peer review are clear.
  • Incorporate opportunities for formative peer review of teaching and multiple observations and observers. 
  • Well-defined and known criteria, within context (e.g. what is effective teaching effectiveness? what approaches are used within the discipline?)
  • Guidelines and tools are available and support quality feedback that is timely, relevant, descriptive, constructive, sensitive, and confidential for formative. 
  • Training for conducting observations, using tools, and providing feedback is available and encouraged. 
  • Institutional leadership - a culture that values and rewards teaching. 
  • Peer review is one component of a multifaceted and scholarly approach to the assessment of teaching.