Peer review of teaching
Peer review of teaching entails a colleague observing a teaching situation, taking notes, and giving feedback, preferably both verbally and in writing.
There is an expectation that all academic staff will have their teaching formally observed at least once in the first two years at the University, and that all teachers engage in regular informal observation of colleagues and have their own teaching observed throughout their teaching careers.
The aim of the review is formative, that is, to help the teacher develop their teaching. When colleagues observe each other, there are benefits for both teacher and observer, to learn more about teaching for learning in their discipline and from sharing ideas and supporting each other. Peer observation of teaching also provides teachers with evidence about their teaching that can be used for continuation and promotion processes.
The review should be:
- positive and constructive
- developmental, that is, formative (not summative)
- respectful of confidentiality
- objective and not subjective
- based on the assumption that both teacher and observer will learn more about teaching from the observation.
The teacher should choose an observer carefully: empathy and attention to detail are essential in an observer; seniority, not so much. A sense of mutual trust is vital. The teacher shouldn’t choose to be observed in their most polished class; a tougher class will generate more useful feedback.
Both observer and teacher should read through this guide and skim two documents: the pre-observation template and the observation template. These forms can be adapted as necessary.
1. Pre-observation consultation
The observer and teacher meet to clarify and agree on objectives. Consult for about 30 minutes a few days in advance of the observation. If both teacher and observer use the Pre-Observation Form for notes, these can be used when writing the final report. The primary objectives of this meeting is
- To learn about the context of the observation (e.g., for continuation or promotion, etc.) and the class to be observed (e.g., early in the course, first class in a new module, etc.).
- To discuss the teacher’s perceived strengths and areas for development.
- To clarify and agree on the objectives of the observation; but, most importantly.
- To establish a sense of mutual trust.
- Confirm that the process will be confidential, unless the teacher chooses to share the final report for evaluation, continuation or promotion purposes.
- Decide on a protocol for the observation (whether the observer will be introduced; whether they will stay for the whole class, etc.).
The observer should arrive a little early to see how the teaching space is configured and how the teacher uses their time prior to teaching. They should sit at the back of the class so they can see what students are doing. They can then record what they see at regular intervals and think throughout the class on the observation form. For streamlining the process, they may prefer to take a laptop and write straight into the form and/or write quick notes that can be expanded on later. These notes will be useful for writing the review.
- Stay focused and attentive, aiming to record what goes on and when, and areas they can feed back on.
- Note what the students are doing, and, from time to time, try to adopt the perspective of a student.
- Think in terms of both content (structure, explanation, visual material, etc.) and process (teaching strategies, organisation, delivery, pace, “pitch,” etc.).
- Not intervene in the class, e.g., don’t help with technical issues or answer questions.
The teacher should ignore the reviewer, insofar as this is possible, and concentrate on teaching as usual.
3. Post-observation debrief
It is usual to have a brief verbal review after the class. The observer and teacher discuss the observed teaching in light of the agreed objectives for the observation and what actually happened in the class preferably immediately after the class.
- Begin with teacher’s thoughts about how the class went.
- The observer should comment on what they have seen (remembering to remain positive and constructive).
- If the observer learned something useful about teaching in the observation, they should say so; it is important that this is a collegial exchange.
4. Post-observation reflection
As soon as possible after the class, the teacher should write a short reflection on how they felt the class went and how they might develop their teaching, based on their own thoughts, the post-observation debrief and the observer’s notes.
5. Final report
The observer writes a one- to two-page report, summarising the process, context and objectives of the observation, the teacher’s strengths, and areas for development.
- Remain positive and constructive.
- Concrete examples are helpful.
- Keep the context and objectives of the observation in mind.
The teacher may choose to use this report for evaluation purposes, continuation or promotion. Some examples of reports are provided.
At this point – depending on time constraints – you may like to have a further, longer debrief to discuss the reflection and final report, as happens with annual reports for doctoral students, where both participants review the situation and then talk about any issues that emerge from the process.
Some potential points to look for and discuss
The greatest value of peer review of teaching is the thought and collegial conversation about effective teaching; the potential for real benefit depends on this. The following is a list of teaching practices to look for.
At the beginning:
- How did the teacher establish the culture of the class?
- Was the teacher well prepared?
- Was the structure of the class explained clearly at the beginning?
- Was its purpose and context in the course explained?
- Was this topic put into context of the course? of the previous class?
- Did the lecturer check whether students had questions from the last class?
During the class:
- Could handouts, power point, be improved (if used)?
- Did the amount of content fit the timeframe?
- Was the right amount of time to enable students’ cognitive processing given to different parts of the teaching/learning?
- Did the teacher convey enthusiasm for the topic? Control of the classroom? Control of the content?
- Comments on audibility, tone, clarity of articulation etc. (voice)
- Do you have comments on body language, physical performance?
- Was there innovation or creativity in the class design?
- What were students doing during the lecture? Was there evidence of student engagement?
- Did the teacher check for student understanding throughout the class?
- Was the teacher a good model for the discipline?
- Did the class start and end at the right time?
- Was there space for questions at the end?
- Was this class in the most suitable format for its objectives?
- Was the classroom space used well as a learning environment?
- Did you learn anything to try in your own classes?
Models of peer review of teaching
This final section illustrates different models of teaching review by Gosling and O’Connor.2 The table shows the peer-review process, described in the far right column. The table makes clear that although the teaching review is of use for continuation and promotion, it is primarily intended to be mutual, equitable and formative.
|Who does it and to whom?
|senior staff observe other staff
|educational developers observe practitioners or expert teachers observe others in department
|teachers observe each other
|identify underperformance, probation, appraisal, promotion, quality assurance, assessment
|demonstrate competency, improve teaching competencies, assessment
|engagement in discussion about teaching: self and mutual reflection
|report, action plan, pass/fail PG Cert
|analysis, discussion, wider experience of teaching methods
|Status of evidence
|peer shared perception
|Relationship of observer to observed
|between managing observer and the observed
|between observer and the observed, examiner
|between observer and the observed—shared with learning set
|pass/fail, score, quality assessment, worthy/unworthy
|how to improve, pass/fail
|non-judgmental, constructive feedback
|What is observed?
|teaching performance, class, learning materials
|teaching performance, class, learning materials
|mutual between peers
|Conditions for success
|embedded management process
|effective central unit
|teaching is valued, discussed
|alienation, lack of cooperation, opposition
|no shared ownership, lack of impact
|complacency, conservatism, lack of focus
Gosling and O’Connor note that they adapted this table from an earlier one found in Gosling, D. (2005). Peer observation of teaching. SEDA Paper 118. Birmingham: SEDA.
See also: 5 Dimensions of Teaching and Learning: Instructional Framework Version 4.0 (PDF).
The Centre for Education Leadership at the University of Washington provides a rubric for assessing the efficacy of teaching.
We hope that you will find these templates useful for conducting a peer review.
A template for the pre-observation discussion.
A template for the peer observation notes.
A template for the final report.
We have provided two examples (observation notes matched with a report). You will be able to see the transformation of the notes taken during the observation into a final report.
Example one – lecturing observation
Example one – final report
Example two – lecturing observation
Example two – final report
Guidelines for the enhancement and evaluation courses and teaching
Additional information about Summative Evaluations of Teaching (SET), class representatives, and course reviews is available on the central website.
Formative evaluations of courses and teaching
The central website has advice for conducting a formative evaluation of courses and teaching.
Seeking a peer review of teaching
If you are seeking a review for promotion or continuation purposes, please arrange your peer review well in advance of the submission deadline. Speak to your faculty Curriculum Development Manager (CDM) or Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning in the first instance, to find out what resource is available to you for receiving a peer review within your faculty.
Should you require support beyond your faculty, the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences have a great resource designed to facilitate these conversations. It is tailored to the needs of FMHS, though aspects of the resource can be considered ‘universal’ and will be relevant whatever your teaching context. FMHS have also indicated that there is capacity to assign FMHS peer reviewers to observe teachers within other faculties. Contact the FMHS peer-review coordinator for more information: email@example.com
Bell, M., & Cooper, P. (2013). Peer observation of teaching in university departments: A framework for implementation, International Journal for Academic Development, 18(1), 60–73. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1360144X.2011.633753#.Umc5XBDIUxF
Bernstein, Daniel J. (2008). Peer review and the evaluation of the intellectual work of teaching, Change, 48–51. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3200/CHNG.40.2.48-51#.Umc57RDIUxE
Cosh, J. (1998). Peer observation: A reflective model, ELT Journal, 53(1), 22-27. Retrieved from https://eltj.oxfordjournals.org/content/53/1/22.abstract
Siddiqui, Z. S., Jonas-Dwyer, D., & Carr, S.E (2007). Twelve tips for peer observation of teaching, Medical Teacher, 29, 297–300. Retrieved from https://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01421590701291451
Page updated 21/02/2024 (minor edit)
- Siddiqui, Zarrin Seema, Diana Jonas-Dwyer, and Sandra E. Carr. “Twelve Tips for Peer Observation of Teaching.” Medical Teacher 29, no.4 (2007): 297-300. DOI: 10.1080/01421590701291451 ↩
- Gosling, David, and Kristine Mason O’Connor, eds. Beyond the Peer Observation of Teaching. SEDA Paper 24. Birmingham: SEDA, 2009 ↩