How Do I Conduct a Review of a Colleague's Teaching?

Introduction
Those who participate as reviewers in the process of peer review of teaching have an opportunity to contribute to the coherency and assessment of their curricula. For example, when an instructor reviews a colleague's teaching within the same department or college, s/he can more clearly see how her/his own teaching activities contribute to the curriculum and how courses within the curriculum interrelate. The new perspectives instructors gain by participating in peer review can help improve the learning experience across a program by helping faculty transform their approaches and course content, and make explicit the connections between courses.

 

Serving as a reviewer should be an expected contribution from established faculty in providing leadership in teaching. A thoughtful and carefully conducted review is an invaluable aid to an instructor or a decision-making body, and reviewers' efforts should be rewarded.

There are several general guidelines that apply to all forms of peer review of teaching. First, there are no universal criteria for evaluating teaching. The criteria to be applied in any review depend on several factors, including the discipline, size and type of class (including distance learning formats), characteristics of the instructor, and characteristics of the learners. Thus, any review is context-specific.

Second, it is essential that the reviewer and the instructor being reviewed agree in advance about the focus of the review and the criteria to be used. Any review of instruction should address the needs of the person being reviewed. Does s/he want to develop/improve teaching? Or does s/he want to produce evidence of teaching quality for a formal review? The person to be reviewed may want feedback about specific aspects of teaching; if so, the review should be focused on, or at least include, these aspects. In any case, advance discussion and agreement are essential. There are dozens of things that one might observe during a lecture, discussion, or clinical teaching experience; obviously, no review can attend to all of these.

Third, it is essential that the reviewer be informed about and open to a variety of approaches to instruction. One of the issues that peer review touches on is academic freedom. The freedom to espouse ideas and to educate in the way one believes is best is paramount to the quality of a major university. Faculty members within a single department may have divergent perspectives on their discipline. It is essential that a review of teaching not infringe on the rights of the person being reviewed. It is important that the reviewer share or be informed about and open to the approach taken by the instructor. Some have suggested that reviewers should not only share the same orientation toward instruction, but that they should be from the same discipline or even subdiscipline. Such similarity may be important in some cases, but it does not seem necessary in all cases. There are times when the fresh eye of someone from another discipline or another campus may provide valuable feedback.

What follows are some general considerations for reviewers to think about. Specific instructions/information for reviewers are provided with each technique.

Considerations

  1. Who should conduct the review?
  2. What is the process?
    • Meet with the colleague you are reviewing prior to conducting the review.
    • Understand the purpose of the review.
    • Understand the aspect(s) of teaching you are reviewing.
    • Select and become familiar with appropriate peer review technique(s).
    • Understand in what way and to whom you should deliver feedback.
  3. What are the advantages to the reviewer?
  4. Are there training opportunities for reviewers?

1. Who should conduct the review?

An important consideration in selecting a reviewer is the purpose of the review. If an individual is seeking to use the review to improve teaching, the status of the reviewer with regard to professorial rank and membership in the same department may not be important. A review focused on assessment of content requires an expert in the same discipline. One focused on effectiveness of teaching methodology requires a reviewer with experience in employing those methods. If the purpose of the review is to provide evidence for a personnel decision, considerations that may be important in selecting reviewers include professorial rank, objectivity (reviewer outside the department, college, or perhaps, the institution), and credentials (recognized expert in the discipline or teaching methodology).

The individual being reviewed should be an integral part of the process and, therefore, should play a role in selecting or providing names of reviewers.

2. What is the process?

Include the individual being reviewed in designing the review process. Implementation of the review will be more effective, and the individual will be more receptive to feedback, if s/he has played an integral role in the process.

Meet with the colleague you are reviewing prior to conducting the review.

During the pre-review meeting, you can discuss:

  • the purpose of the review and the aspect(s) of teaching you will be considering.
  • your colleague's teaching philosophy, course objectives, syllabus (means of meeting the course objectives), and assessment of student learning.
  • the review technique, including in what form and to whom feedback will be given.
  • other questions/concerns.

Understand the purpose of the review.

  • Is your colleague seeking to improve his/her teaching and student learning?
  • Has the department chair or mentoring committee requested the review to provide evidence of the quality of teaching in order to rank/compare the individual within the unit/profession for personnel decisions (e.g., appointment, promotion, tenure, teaching award, merit)?

Understand the aspect(s) of teaching you are reviewing.

There are many aspects of teaching that can be reviewed over time. It is essential to understand clearly what aspect is being reviewed currently in order to provide a useful evaluation. Although not an exhaustive list, some examples follow:

  • Are you being asked to observe the instructor in the classroom with the students? If so, what aspect are you evaluating: lecture style/presentation, effective use of small group discussions/exercises to achieve course goals?
  • Are you being asked to review syllabus materials and assignments to ascertain whether the content is appropriate, current, and properly sequenced?
  • Are you be asked to evaluate the student response to the class by: 1) observing what the students are actually doing in the classroom and how they are interacting with the instructor and/or each other, 2) interviewing students, 3) ascertaining if students have achieved certain goals or have enjoyed their experience in the course as a result of the teaching, or 4) obtaining information from students in some other way?
  • Are you being asked to review instructional objectives and goals to ascertain if they are sensible and achievable, to observe how the instructor gives feedback to students, to review examinations, to examine the conceptual framework for a course, or to decide if the course material is integrated, representative, and intellectually rigorous?
  • Are you being asked to evaluate how the course fits in with the overall curriculum?

Select and become familiar with a review technique appropriate for the aspect(s) of teaching you are reviewing.

Choose a technique based on the purpose of the review and what aspect of teaching is being assessed. The techniques included on this website contain descriptions of their purpose and implementation, including the time needed to conduct the review. Each technique has advantages and disadvantages. In some cases, you may work with the colleague you are reviewing to select an appropriate technique; in others, you may be asked to use a particular technique, e.g., observing teaching.

The frequency of review over time (how many times during the course or during the faculty member's probationary or post-tenure review period will the review be conducted) should be determined. In addition, it is important to establish criteria that are progressive as the instructor's experience and rank increase. See Designing a Peer Review of Teaching Program on this website for more detailed information about the departmental process.

Understand in what way and to whom you should deliver feedback.

Feedback may be delivered verbally or in written form (e.g., letter, standardized form) to the colleague or to the department chair/mentoring committee.

The nature of the feedback depends on the relationship of the reviewer and the colleague being reviewed. The colleague will be more receptive to constructive criticism from a reviewer that is trusted and has a positive relationship with the colleague. We recommend that you begin with areas of strength before engaging in a discussion of areas that require improvement. Feedback should be as specific as possible. For more ideas about how to give constructive feedback to a colleague, see Characteristics of Reflective Feedback.

 

3. What are the advantages to the reviewer?

Faculty who serve as reviewers gain recognition as they assume a leadership role in teaching and contribute to the overall coherency of the curriculum of their department or college. They are exposed to a wide variety of teaching issues and techniques as well as to a wealth of content, which may have an impact on their own teaching.

4. Are there training opportunities for reviewers?

Some reviewers may benefit from participation in workshops that address various aspects of conducting reviews, e.g., how to include the colleague being reviewed in the process, how to deliver feedback effectively, etc. Information regarding faculty development programs and other teaching resources can be reached from this website from the Resources section. This section of the TLE site also provides links to Grants, and Awards to Support Teaching and Learning.

Summary
A thoughtful and carefully conducted review is an invaluable aid to an instructor or a decision-making body and is another part of the campus-wide effort to improve continuously the quality of instruction at the UW-Madison. More specific information for reviewers is located in the description of each technique included on this website.

To examine the list of techniques, choose any of the following: