Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
The posting below looks at some key points in implementing an effective faculty peer review process. It is from Chapter 2, Setting Up a System for Peer Review, in Peer Reviews of Teaching A Sourcebook, by Nancy Van Note Chism Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. With Contributions by Grady W. Chism, III Second Edition Copyright 1999, 2007 by Anker Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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Setting Up a System for Peer Review
Common Pitfalls to Avoid in Developing and Implementing Peer Review of Teaching Systems
Unfortunately, peer review of teaching has been plagued by a history of stop and start efforts. Ambitious plans are generated but implementations falls short of the mark. Plans meet with strong faculty resistance and are thwarted or shelved. The causes for failure are context-specific, but in general there are some reasons that should be listed as problems to avoid. These include:
* Ignoring history of poorly done reviews. In situations where peer review of teaching has been performed in haphazard and uninformed ways, such as the slapdash and noncommittal report following a brief classroom visit by a colleague, it will be necessary to broaden the notion of peer review before faculty will regard the plan as meaningful and worthy of their attention and effort. If their mental model of peer review of teaching is not challenged, it will be hard to involve faculty in the development of a plan or enlist them in using it.
* No plan, poor plan, overambitious plan. If peer review is required without any guidance for the reviewers or plan for peer review, efforts are doomed to fail. The results will be idiosyncratic to those doing the reviews and will largely be inconsistent, generating resentment and resistance. Similarly, if there is a plan and it is not well developed or is unrealistic with respect to the commitment and skills of the reviewers, it will likely fail.
* Lack of buy-in by faculty and/or administrators. Even a good plan can meet with an untimely death if it is not embraced by the faculty and administrators. Support is needed at both levels. Occasionally, zealous faculty members bring ideas for peer review from their previous institutions, readings, or professional meetings. While their enthusiasm may ignite some of their colleagues, these systems often last for only the life of the faculty member's leadership. Similarly, if an administrator is inspired to support peer review and fails to get faulty on board with the idea, the system will be subverted or will die as the administrator's vigilance is transferred to other projects.
* Not integrated into other performance systems (promotion and tenure, annual report, awards). Peer review of teaching systems that are standalone efforts, not aligned with other activities requiring teaching evaluation, face an uphill battle. Although there should be tremendous intrinsic interest in receiving good feedback on teaching, this is not usually the case. It is also not often that the time it takes to do a good evaluation is sufficient for completely different evaluations to be done for different purposes. For example, a thorough review of teaching performance and materials that results in a narrative report can also be the basis for an annual review, to be later inserted into a promotion and tenure dossier, and used as an attachment to a teaching award nomination. If separate forms and process are required for each of these purposes, the system stands a greater chance of falling into disuse.
* Lack of model for reviewers. When peer review of teaching plans are couched in generalities, faculty often find it hard to implement them. While it is important that any plan not be so specific that variations in teaching context and individual approaches cannot be accommodated, it is also important to provide concrete examples, forms, or other information that will help faculty to operationalize the plan.
Characteristics of an Effective Peer Review Process
Speaking of evaluation generally, Seldin (2006) enumerated the qualities of a good faculty performance evaluation system as practicality, relevance, comprehensiveness, sensitivity, freedom from contamination, reliability, and acceptability. In his study of the implementation of a system of formative peer review of teaching at a liberal arts college, Keig (2000) made the following recommendations for successful implementation: the improvement purpose of peer review should be stressed; administrators should provide resources for peer review; peer review should focus on more than just classroom performance; systems should provide preparation for reviewers on both reviewing and feedback techniques; faculty should be involved in developing systems of peer review; and faculty who understand the positive power of peer review should be enlisted to "sell" the program.
In summary, the following are characteristics of an effective peer review process:
* It provides for both formative feedback and summative decision-making.
* The process and instrumentation have been developed with attention to thoroughness and fairness.
* Peer reviewers understand their task and are well prepared to accomplish it.
* Trust and confidence in the process is exhibited by all parties.
* Ongoing efforts in the academic unit are invested in improving the peer review process.
* Peer review assignments are made in ways that are likely to result in helpful collaborations.
* Peer review is a valued process within the academic unit.
* Parties are cooperative and timely in accomplishing peer review tasks.