Why are peers a useful data source for teaching evaluation?
Our colleagues are in a unique position to provide expert feedback and help us improve our teaching. For instance, Paulsen (2002) affirms that “peer review brings content-based contextuality to the evaluation of teaching” (p. 10). Other scholars explain that peers are especially equipped to provide feedback on course materials and measures of content knowledge such as syllabi and copies of completed student exams or assignments. Berk (2005) extends this argument, drawing a parallel between peer feedback on teaching and the peer review process used in other forms of scholarship.
In a study of peer observation, Donnelly (2007) found that instructors whose teaching was observed and received peer feedback were more likely to apply theory to practice, reflect on the rationale behind their practices, and develop increased confidence and feelings of self-efficacy in teaching. Most recently, Fletcher (2018) found that engineering faculty who developed and implemented a collaborative model for peer review not only used the feedback to improve their teaching, but also cited an increased sense of collegiality within their department as a key outcome.
Who counts as a peer?
Weimer (2010) argues that many established systems of peer evaluation have failed because they insufficiently considered the implications of this question. For instance, she writes that many peer evaluation programs were designed based on the common flawed “assumption that more experienced faculty (those tenured and promoted) are qualified to judge the teaching effectiveness of those less experienced” (p. 107).
Instead of choosing the faculty “evaluators” based on seniority or rank, Weimer suggests that, “faculty need...a diverse collection of colleagues with whom they explore a variety of roles and activities” (p. 106). Specifically, this might include a departmental colleague, a colleague from another department at the same institution, a good teacher, someone from your local teaching center, a teacher from somewhere who shares a pedagogical interest, and/or someone to teach (i.e., anyone willing to play the role of learner).
How might peers provide each other with useful feedback?
Weimer (2010) expands this question, asking us to consider the activities in relation to the varied roles our peers can play and the goals at hand: “When colleagues are collaborators, what kind of roles and activities accomplish the goals of ongoing growth and vitality for the teacher and improved learning experiences for students?” (p. 116-127). She responds with seven possible peer roles, organized as a developmental sequence:
- Colleague as collaborator (working on a shared project such as designing a new assignment)
- Colleague as co-learner (of teaching scholarship, a new instructional practice or tool, etc.)
- colleague as student (offering possible student reactions to course materials, exercises)
- Colleague as questioner (asking about pedagogical beliefs or course policies, for ex.)
- Colleague as critic (constructively disagreeing, identifying practices that may limit learning)
- Colleague as advocate (speaking publicly about policies that enhance or compromise learning)
- Colleague as confidant (listening to one’s joys and struggles)
Please click here for concrete examples of feedback collecting activities aligned with these peer roles, which include examples of the type of data the activity might yield and how to interpret that data.