Documenting Teaching: Peer / Chair Review
While our peers don't experience our teaching directly, they are better able than students to judge such things as subject-matter expertise, course goals, grading standards and practices, professional ethics, and thesis supervision. (Chism, 8). In addition, peers and chairs may have other information to bring to the evaluation process.
Being evaluated by peers means more than having someone observe a class and write up a report based on what they saw that day. Although class visitations can give the observer a fair sense of the faculty member's organization, presentation skills, and rapport with students, it works best when there is an agreed-upon structure for the visits.
In her very helpful book Peer Review of Teaching, Nancy Chism devotes an entire chapter to guidelines and resources for peer review. Among her suggestions:
- department: set guidelines for how the observer should be chosen, how many observations should occur, how long the observations last, and what approach is used to gather and report data
- observer: schedule a pre-observation conference with the instructor to establish a context and focus for the class visit
- observer: use the university/ college/ department statement on teaching expectations as a guide for the observation
- observer: keep a rich descriptive record of what goes on in the class
- observer and instructor: allow time for mutual "debriefing" after the class visit
Peer Review of Course Materials
According to Nancy Chism, "most writers on peer review see review of course materials as the optimal way in which peers can be involved" (42). Among the advantages of this method are:
- course materials provide a window on course philosophy, expectations, scope, and presentation of subject matter
- classes don't have to be interrupted
- review can take place at the convenience of the reviewer
To keep the amount of reading within reasonable limits, the department may want to specify what kinds of teaching materials to include. Again, Nancy Chism offers some suggestions on this, dividing them into:
- Materials that communicate course policy and practices (syllabus, course guides, etc.)
- Materials that communicate content (handouts, bibliographies, lecture notes, etc.)
- Materials that set assignments and assess student performance (writing assignments, tests, classroom exercises, etc.)
- Instructor comments on student work (graded papers or tests, email exchanges, etc.)
Although course materials can be reviewed by peers without the instructor present, it's generally a good idea to bring in the instructor at some point in the process so he/ she can answer questions or provide more context to explain materials.
Other Peer Roles
Another role for peers is to note and evaluate what Nancy Chism calls "leadership for teaching." For Chism, this includes both the scholarship of teaching and departmental teaching efforts.
Although definitions of the scholarship of teaching vary, it may be thought of as "activities through which faculty explore conceptions central to the teaching of their field, assess the effects of different teaching strategies on student learning in the discipline, and pose new directions for research." When such activity is formalized and disseminated to the academic community, it may be regarded as peer-reviewed research. When it is used by the faculty member to improve his/ her own teaching, it can be reviewed by peers locally as part of the teaching evaluation process.
Under departmental teaching efforts, Chism lists such things as chairing teaching-related committees, mentoring new colleagues, or serving in departmental roles such as course coordinator, director of undergraduate or graduate studies, or TA supervisor. Organizing a department discussion series on teaching or bringing new techniques and approaches to the department would also fit into this category. Although some departments may consider these activities as service, notes Chism, "there is a sense in which [they] are organic to teaching, testifying to the depth of commitment, creativity, and student focus that teachers bring to their work" (100).
Peers are also in the best position to judge what the UND teaching evaluation policy calls "continuing professional development." For the most part, this involves reviewing the faculty member's own account of his/ her professional growth.
In add departments, one role of the chair is to synthesize the information in a faculty member's file and make a recommendation based on that evidence. This synthesis letter, though, is not considered a separate source of information.
If the chair has a separate perspective to add to the file, that perspective should be written up in a separate letter or memo, which can be considered alongside other kinds of evidence of teaching effectiveness.
Two good resources on the peer/ chair role in teaching evaluation are available in the OID library. Or departments may want to purchase their own copies.
- Nancy Van Note Chism's Peer Review of Teaching: A Sourcebook (Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing,1999).
- The Department Chair's Role in Developing New Faculty into Teachers and Scholars. Ed. Estela Mara Bensimon, Kelly Ward, and Karla Sanders (Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Co., 2000).
Note to Faculty:
If your department doesn't have a peer review process, you may want to initiate an informal one yourself. Invite your chair or other colleagues to sit in on your classes, review your teaching materials, or just talk with you about teaching. Usually, this works best if you have particular questions you would like them to focus on. But just asking for general feedback can be useful too. If they make positive comments about your teaching, ask if they would be willing to write a letter for your file.