Building KU's Teaching and Learning Community

Developing Peer Observations

a professor working with studentsWhen most people hear the term “peer review of teaching,” they often think of someone visiting a class and writing a report on whether the lecture was clear and whether students were paying attention (or asleep). Our view at KU is that there’s much more to teaching than holding people’s attention while talking non-stop. As this website has suggested, there’s much to designing class time, assignments, feedback, and practice that can make a course more successful. In many cases, there will be time spent with students in which the teacher appears to be doing nothing but listening and occasionally commenting. There’s an apocryphal story about a department chair making the obligatory classroom visit to a young faculty member, and he was surprised to see students working together, sometimes sharing with other groups or with the whole class, and interacting individually with the professor. After 20 minutes he said to the professor, “It’s OK, I’ll come back sometime when you’re teaching.” Peer review of teaching should include a detailed analysis of the professor’s plan for learning, including material selection, targeted goals for students, methods of measuring learning, indicators of success in learning, and use of time with students during scheduled classes, studios and labs.

Guidelines for evaluation of teaching at KU include a section for peer review that’s drawn from reading and discussing a portfolio of course materials. See the portfolio checklist (see below) for items to include.

Peer reviewers focus on four areas: quality of intellectual content, nature of teaching practices, quality of student understanding, and evidence of how your teaching is changing over time. See the questions a colleague could ask when looking through your portfolio and talking with you.

It’s very important that you make these materials available to colleagues early in your time at KU, so you can get constructive feedback as your courses evolve. Obviously, this helps you become more skilled as a teacher, but it also helps you learn how to represent your teaching. It would be foolish to wait until just before a professional review to send out a research manuscript for review, hoping it will win audience approval. We all know that we learn a lot about the quality of our work and about how we write about it by exposing manuscripts to critical audiences early and often. So it is with teaching. You’ll want to find opportunities to share your semester-by-semester reflections on teaching with colleagues, getting their reactions to both what you do and how you learn from it. If you’ve done this once a year, you’ll find preparation of your teaching materials for review to be easy.

Teaching portfolio checklist

Your teaching portfolio should include these items:

  • Annotated syllabus describing course content.
  • Short description of reasons for decisions about content and goals.
  • Elaboration of instructional design.
  • Examples of assignments and of student work on those assignments.
  • Reflection on students’ achievements and plans for future course offerings.
  • Essential items are the syllabus, examples of assignments and student work on those assignments, and your reflections on students’ learning and plans for future course offerings.

Sample peer review letters

In 2008, the Faculty Governance’s Task Force on the Assessment of Teaching and Learning compiled a Peer Observations FAQ list that includes information about what to include in peer reviews, who should conduct them, responsibilities of reviewers, and resources on teaching and peer evaluations. Please follow the link to see that list.

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