Peer review is a form of evaluation designed to provide feedback to teachers about their professional practice. The standard method of evaluating teaching is to ask students at the end of a module or course, for their feedback on the lecturers performance. While student feedback does have value, it also has limitations. For example, students are often not qualified to determine a lecturers knowledge base or understanding of course content. They may also lack the skills to identify appropriate levels of difficulty of the assessment tasks, as well as the appropriateness of the learning objectives as they relate to the overall curriculum.
Peer review of your teaching practice should be performed over time on different occasions, by different colleagues. This will create a more reliable measure of your teaching practice, as it goes some way towards eliminating bias. Effective peer evaluation should incorporate input from multiple sources. These can include the peer review from colleagues, but should also integrate feedback from students, personal reflection (as might be obtained from a teaching portfolio), and a review of student work. Students in particular can provide input on their perceptions of the classroom instruction process, outside-classroom interactions, and their satisfaction with the lecturer’s ability to mentor them. This integration of input from various sources allows for a more comprehensive, holistic view of teaching practice.
Why you should consider using peer review
Peer review of your teaching practice has several benefits. These include;
- The opportunity to learn from others’ perspectives
- Being exposed to new ideas
- New staff learning from more experienced colleagues
However, you should also be aware of some possible pitfalls. These include bias when the observer has beliefs about teaching practice that aren’t consistent with your own, and a lack of validity (when used summatively) if it is viewed as an independent indicator of teaching ability.
Peer review process guidelines
Now that you have a form that is relevant for your context, you need to implement it. Think of the process as a collaborative one, rather than an assessment. Before you begin, you should decide what class is going to be observed, and who will observe you. It may be difficult but try and choose someone who can help identify areas in which you can improve, rather than someone you feel safe with. It may be easier asking a friend but you may find that they don’t give you the objective evaluation you need to develop your practice. The same goes for the activity you choose. You may want to go with a module you’re comfortable with and that you know well, but this doesn’t allow you much chance to improve. Instead, try to use the process as opportunity to challenge yourself.
Before the activity begins, you should meet with the observer so that you can discuss what you will be doing during the session. The aim of this is to provide some context for them to work within. For example, you may discuss the goal of your session, specific objectives you wish to achieve, the teaching strategies you will use to achieve the objective, how you will measure this achievement, as well as any concerns you would like the observer to take note of. An activity outline that they can keep may help to remind them what you’re going to try and do during your teaching activity.
The observer should arrive 10 minutes before the class begins, as arriving late is to model poor behaviour to students. They should be briefly introduced to the students, and their role explained. Finally, the observer should not ask questions during the activity, as this may detract from the process and invalidate the outcome. If the activity will go on for more than an hour, decide beforehand which components the observer will stay for.
After the teaching activity you should de-brief with the observer. This can either be done immediately, or after a short period of reflection. The advantage of doing it immediately is that everything is fresh in everyone’s minds, but which doesn’t allow time for both parties to reflect on the process. Whether you choose to do it immediately or after a reflective period, this session is where the observer can report on their observations for further discussion. This session should be led by the person who was observed, rather than be in the form of post-mortem by the observer.
Following the discussion, it is essential to decide on a set of actions that you can take in order to move forward and use the review process as a means of improving your practice. Without setting objectives for improvement based on the feedback, and then taking action to achieve those objectives, there is little point in the peer review process. Finally, the completed evaluation form, professional development objectives, and plan of action should be archived in your teaching portfolio.
Click on the image below for an example peer review form
Hints and tips
- Peer review has been identified as one way in which teaching practices can be improved through objective feedback from colleagues
- In order to gain the maximum benefit from peer review, there are processes that can be followed, rather than taking an ad hoc approach
- Peer review should always be followed by a plan of action. Without acting on the feedback, the process is little more than an administrative exercise
References and sources
Peer Review of Teaching for Promotion Applications: Peer Observation of Classroom Teaching. Information, Protocols and Observation Form for Internal Peer Review Team.
Babbie, E. & Mouton, J. (2006). The Practice of Social Research. Oxford University Press. ISBN: 0195718542.
Brent, R. & Felder, R.M. (2004). A Protocol for Peer Review of Teaching. Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition.
Butcher, C. Davies, C. and Highton, M. (2006). Designing Learning. From Module Outline to Effective Teaching. Routledge. ISBN: 9780415380300.
Graduate Attributes (2006). Curtin University of Technology.
Peer Observation Guidelines and Recommendations. University of Minnesota, Center for Teaching and Learning.
Additional reading and resources
Classroom Observation Instruments. University of Minnesota, Center for Teaching and Learning. (a list of instruments that you can use in your own teaching practice)
McKenzie, J. & Parker, N. (2011). Peer review in online and blended learning environments. Report from the Australian Learning and Teaching Council.
Harris, K., Farrell, K., Bell, M., Devlin, M. & James, R. (2008). Peer Review of Teaching in Australian Higher Education. A handbook to support institutions in developing and embedding effective policies and practices. Centre for the Study of Higher Education. ISBN 9780734040459.
Resources on Peer Observation and Review. University of Minnesota, Center for Teaching and Learning.