Peer Review of Teaching

Peer Review of Teaching

Peer review of your teaching serves at least two purposes

  • Feedback on your teaching from others who are also engaged in teaching can be a productive component in the development of your teaching over time, and
  • Reviews by peers are important evidence of teaching effectiveness.

Peer review of teaching encompasses a series of collaborative practices

  • One instructor observing a class taught by another instructor
  • Two, three, or four instructors observing one another’s classes and reflecting on the experience
  • Instructors engaged in a collaborative effort, such as a team-taught course or thesis committee, reflecting on the experience 
  • Review of syllabi, assignments, or other printed or online materials     
  • Sharing in-class activities and assignments and reflecting together on student learning outcomes

Some of these practices may result in a formal letter or report, others in a brief note of acknowledgment, and some may be documented primarily in your own self-evaluation of your teaching.

These practices can be productively engaged in with peers within your discipline and also outside of it.

Things to consider as you seek peer review of your teaching

Do start this process by inquiring as to what expectations for peer review of teaching exist in your department or unit—if those expectations are formalized, that will guide your practice.  If not, you will determine your own peer review process, likely in consultation with a department or unit head, a mentor within or outside your department, or someone at CTL.

Do think of peer review of teaching as an ongoing process.  Whether your primary goal is to develop your pedagogy or to document it for purposes of achieving a position, promotion, or distinction, best results will be achieved with several reviews over time.  A variety of perspectives on your teaching will also be useful.  

Classroom observations are a widely used peer review practice

You might consider choosing classroom observers from two or more of these groups: 

  • peers whose research area is close to yours, 
  • peers in the same discipline but in different subfields, peers outside of your discipline, 
  • peers whose pedagogical goals and methods are similar to yours.

Consider options for making the classroom observation process as productive as possible for you, and communicate those to potential reviewers from the beginning of the process:

  • Which course, and which class periods, will give a reviewer the clearest idea of your teaching?  
  • What materials might be helpful for the reviewer to have access to beforehand: the syllabus? An assignment? Access to the course in Canvas?
  • Would asking the same reviewer to visit twice be useful?  Should those visits be close together, giving a sense of the range of your pedagogy in a particular class?  Or should those visits be at two different points in the semester, or in two different semesters, giving a sense of your pedagogical development over time?
  • Would observing the reviewer’s teaching, as context for understanding their feedback on your class, be useful to you? 
  • Would you like the reviewer to interact with you and the students during the class period, or is their role strictly as an observer? 
  • What would you like the outcome of the observation to be—a formal report to you? A formal report to you and your department or unit head? A brief note of acknowledgement that the observation took place, with the substance of the review communicated to you in conversation?

Do make conversations with the observer a part of the process.  

  • Prior to the observation, a meeting with the reviewer can be used to give them an overview of the course, explain how the lesson they will observe fits into the progress of the course, and mention any areas you would especially welcome their comments on.  
  • After the observation, a meeting can be used for both you and the reviewer to ask questions and compare notes on what happened in the class and for you to provide the reviewer with any additional information they may seek based on what they observed.

Guidance for classroom observers

Your teaching experience and willingness to be a peer reviewer of teaching is foundational to the promotion of effective teaching and learning at Mississippi State University and is much appreciated!

A classroom observation is certainly evaluative, but it can be productive to embark on this process with a view toward describing what you observe.  A descriptive approach keeps the instructor’s—rather than the reviewer’s—pedagogical practices and style central, and it provides a record by an expert observer that is useful to the instructor and to others looking to the peer review for evidence of effective teaching.  A thorough report will be easiest if you take detailed notes and complete the report while the class period is still fresh in your mind, if possible.

You might focus your description of what you observed on these areas:

  • Do begin with specifics about the number and title of the course, the day and time of the observation, the length of the class period, the space in which the class period took place, the number of students present, etc.
  • Describe how the instructor communicated with the students about the course, including how this particular class period follows from, builds on, and prepares for other class periods; ongoing work on assignments and upcoming due dates; etc.
  • Describe how the instructor communicated the content of the day’s lesson, including lecture, discussion, group activities, examples, illustrations, simulations, demonstrations, case studies, references to textbooks or PowerPoint slides, use of videos, etc.
  • Describe the students’ participation in class, including being on time and attentive, taking notes, asking questions, answering questions, offering responses, interacting in small groups, completing in-class activities, etc.  

Your description will communicate a great deal about the instructor’s design and execution of the class period and the students’ participation in and response to it.  

Your analysis of what you have observed may suggest advice that could be helpful to the instructor.  Advice for pedagogical improvement is a welcome part of the classroom observation process, and is most effective when it suggests changes consistent with the instructor’s own pedagogical goals and methods.