The benefits of peer evaluation of teaching have been established but there are also important questions and concerns to address as we follow up and develop our strategies and procedures.
- Identified potential concerns with online peer evaluations to discuss further and resolve with the assistance of our Program Chair
- FERPA / confidentiality of student discussions within online courses, particularly for our discipline (i.e. it’s evident when “observer” is in face-to-face course but not in online so how to address)
- Who are our peer evaluators (buy in; small program/faculty; unique interdisciplinary nature of particular programs/courses and classroom culture)
Larry Keig (2000), in his article "Formative Peer Review of Teaching: Attitudes of Faculty at Liberal Arts Colleges Toward Colleague Assessment," notes that
Programs expressly designed to improve college teaching would appear to benefit from being put into place alongside, but largely separate from, evaluation designed for making personnel decisions. Faculty taking part in this study appeared willing to participate in at least four methods of peer review if these were intended to improve their teaching; based on information from other studies, faculty are less willing to participate voluntarily in peer review when the purpose is for making judgments about reappointment, tenure, promotion, or compensation. (p. 79)That is, we must be careful to differentiate between peer observation and peer evaluation or assessment, which are closely linked but subtly different. Keig (2000) observed in his study of 372 faculty members from baccalaureate degree-granting institutions in Iowa that faculty were more comfortable participating in peer observation methods (like direct classroom observation, classroom videotaping, evaluation of course materials, and assessment of the instructors' feedback on student work) when it was clear that the results were being used to improve teaching, not for high-stakes assessment (hiring, firing, promotion, tenure, raises).
As the table below from Keig's article illustrates, more faculty were willing to participate in peer observation methods like direct classroom visits and evaluation of course materials. Faculty were less interested in being videotaped or having their evaluations of students' work assessed.
However, as Keig (2000) noted, the combination of multiple observation methods is crucial for the broadest and most effective understanding of teaching. Dressel (1976) concluded, "No one method by itself is adequate; in fact, overemphasis on one method may do more harm than good. Various facets of the program can be examined by different and appropriate means of assessment" ( p. 338).
Of course, another concern is the impact of power differentials among faculty members observing/assessing and being observed/assessed. Usually, it is untenured faculty members being assessed by tenured and senior faculty, or contingent or non-tenure-track faculty being observed by senior faculty and/or departmental administrators. These power differences can impact the satisfaction of those involved.
Kohut, Burnap, and Yon (2000) illustrated in their article, "Peer Observation of Teaching: Perceptions of the Observer and the Observed," that satisfaction rates about validity, effectiveness, value, and reliability are higher among the observers than the observed (see table below):
As the authors state, "The results of our study support the work that suggests colleagues who trust and respect each other can be valuable in helping improve each other’s teaching" (Kohut, Burnap, &Yon, 2000, p. 24). Developing a culture of trust and respect is another crucial concern for those developing peer observation and evaluation programs.