Peer Observations of Teaching

The 2016 Policy for Reappointment, Tenure and Promotion Procedures, Criteria, and Standards for Tenured and Probationary Faculty states the following: "Each Department is required to conduct peer observations of the teaching activity of each candidate and shall develop written procedures for such observations. Departments should follow the guidelines approved by FSAC."

Note: Individual departments vary in procedures regarding peer observations of teaching. Note: Individual departments vary in procedures regarding peer observations of teaching. Departments are welcome to use the toolkit as is, or to modify it to fit departmental needs. If desired, our instructional consultant is available to help adapt forms and share resources on peer review. Email Matthew Paolucci Callahan at faculty.center@sonoma.edu to set up a convenient time to meet.

What it is

Peer reviewers evaluate areas teaching effectiveness that student ratings cannot address. By examining course materials (assignments, tests, syllabi) and observing a class session, they provide important feedback on ways teaching practices can be adapted to enrich one’s teaching and increase student learning.

Why it's important

Peer review is an essential source of evaluation of teaching effectiveness. Though student ratings of instruction are commonly relied upon, they are limited in their scope and ability to measure all aspects of teaching. One reason for this is because student ratings represent the learner’s perspective. Students are qualified to evaluate the clarity of instruction, helpfulness of assignments, and usefulness and timeliness of feedback. They are not qualified to evaluate aspects such as the rigor of content, effectiveness of tests and assignments and ability to facilitate class discussion. Lastly, a substantial body of research shows that student evaluations are susceptible to biases unrelated to instruction such as gender, race, and personality of instructor, course discipline and level, and perceived grades. Because of these limitations, reliance on student ratings should be tempered and teaching should be examined across multiple sources of evidence. A rich, thorough peer review provides a critical source of evidence.

How to do them

This toolkit was designed to give evaluators a step by step guide for conducting peer review in an efficient way. Though departments may employ a variety of approaches to peer review, research shows that consistency in implementation increases the reliability and validity of evaluations.

Step 1: Before the observation, review course materials

At least one week before the scheduled observation, request that the instructor send the course syllabus, and if available, a copy of the exam/test/quiz that will measure the content covered in the class session you will be observing. Reviewing these materials will give you a richer perspective on the instructor’s teaching. You may also choose to meet with the instructor before the class session and learn more about their teaching style, classroom dynamics and goals for the class session.

Step 2: Observe class session

Arrive early and try to sit someplace unobtrusive. Your goal is to be a neutral presence that does not interfere with the learning process. Take notes throughout. Pay particular attention to the classroom climate. Are students engaged? Are some participating but not others? Below is a form you are free to utilize in your observations. Choose whichever works best for you.

Step 3: Write evaluation

Now you have lots of material to work with for substantive evaluation that will inform your colleague’s teaching! Depending on your department’s procedures, you may submit a letter summarizing your review of course materials and/or a class session. Or you may submit the forms provided.

Step 4: Follow-up and Submit

Consider a post-evaluation meeting with the instructor. Here at SSU, we spend a good deal of our time teaching, yet there are so few opportunities to a talk with other faculty, exchange ideas and reflect on our teaching. This discussion should not feel evaluative or judgmental. Rather, it is a time to discuss our shared experiences, challenges, and insights about teaching.

Try to highlight specific examples in the session observed. For example: I noticed that when you asked if there were any questions, students were quiet, but then they struggled when solving the problems in their groups. One thing I’ve tried is to say “Tell me, what parts of the equation are less clear to you?” This often gets a response and helps me learn where they are struggling. While peer evaluations serve an evaluative purpose, they are also invaluable sources of professional development.

When submitting your evaluation, be mindful of deadlines. For tenure track candidates, a signed copy of the evaluation must be delivered to the candidate within 10 days of the observation. The candidate then has 10 days to sign the document to acknowledge receipt (but not necessarily agree with the content). See section IIB2a of University RTP Policy.

For temporary faculty, observations must be received by the temporary faculty member at least one week prior to the deadline for inclusion of materials to be submitted for evaluation. See University Policy Regarding the Periodic Evaluation of Temporary Faculty, section III2.