Definition of Peer Review

Peer Review of Teaching

Peer review of teaching refers to the participation of colleagues in the development and/or evaluation of one’s teaching activities.

  • By colleagues, we mean persons who engage in the same or similar kinds of educational activities, persons who share content expertise, or persons who bring relevant specialized skills to the task of peer review.
  • By development, we mean the creation or evolution of educational activities over time. Formative review refers to activities designed to contribute to the development of teaching. A formative review results in feedback to the instructor.
  • By evaluation, we mean the assessment or appraisal of the quality of someone’s teaching. Summative review refers to activities designed to produce or provide input to such an evaluation. A summative review usually results in documentation that may be reviewed by others.

Teaching is difficult to define. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, there are 11 schools and colleges: Agriculture and Life Sciences, Business, Education, Engineering, Human Ecology, Law, Letters and Science, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, and Veterinary Medicine. The Graduate School offers masters and doctoral degrees in almost every field. Instruction is offered to over 40,000 students by 2200 faculty and many of the 5000 academic staff members employed on the campus.

It is obvious from the breadth of educational programs suggested by this list of schools and colleges that the range of teaching activities is similarly broad. The following list is intended to illustrate this diversity; it is not exhaustive.

  • Clinical instruction - teaching patient evaluation, diagnostic techniques, and management strategies
  • Performance instruction - teaching/enhancing performance skills
  • Graduate instruction - supervising graduate student research or disciplinary training
  • Outreach and continuing education - teaching persons other than “traditional,” full time students
  • Distance education - teaching students on or off campus
  • Lecturing in undergraduate or graduate courses
  • Leading discussions/seminars
  • Teaching laboratory or scientific procedures
  • Preparing a syllabus - selecting content for a course, designing activities to help students learn
  • Designing and implementing assessment procedures to evaluate students
  • Supervising student interns/externs

A review may focus on specific aspects of any of these activities.

Throughout this site, we emphasize the importance of agreement about what is to be reviewed as a prerequisite for successful peer review. The diversity of teaching activities suggested by this list illustrates why such an agreement is essential. There are many aspects of any individual’s teaching that might be reviewed, too many to be effectively covered by one person at one time. The more focused a review, the more likely it is to provide useful information. We also emphasize, in our definition of peer review of teaching here and elsewhere, the importance of a reviewer being a person who engages in the same or similar kinds of educational activities, shares content expertise, or bring relevant specialized skills to the task of peer review. The selection of an appropriate colleague is completely dependent on the intent of the review.

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