ERIC Identifier: ED378924
Publication Date: 1995-03-00
Author: Keig, Larry - Waggoner, Michael D.
Clearinghouse on Higher Education Washington DC.| BBB27915 _ George Washington
Univ. Washington DC. School of Education and Human Development.
Collaborative Peer Review. The Role of Faculty in Improving
College Teaching. ERIC Digest.
Teaching is "the business of the business--the activity that is central to
all colleges and universities" (Pew Higher Education Research Program 1989, p.
1). But teaching is not always taken seriously and too often is relegated to a
position below that of other professional activities. While there unquestionably
is superior teaching in the academy, nearly everyone agrees that it could be
improved significantly and that the teaching of even the best faculty could be
WHAT ARGUMENTS CAN BE MADE FOR IMPLEMENTING IMPROVEMENT
For decades, academicians have assumed, usually erroneously, that
summative evaluation--decision making with respect to reappointment, promotion,
tenure, and compensation--is also a means by which instructional improvement can
be facilitated. In practice, summative evaluation rarely provides sufficient
information to faculty for improving teaching. In recent years, in fact,
time-honored practices of faculty evaluation have been rather harshly
In response to this criticism, scholars have recommended that formative
evaluation--assessment specifically designed to improve teaching--be put into
place alongside, but apart from, summative evaluation. Other scholars have
suggested that formative peer evaluation, a process in which faculty work
collaboratively to assess each others' teaching and to assist one another in
efforts to strengthen teaching, be developed and implemented.
Collaborative peer review probably should include opportunities for faculty
to learn how to teach more effectively, to practice new teaching techniques and
approaches, to get regular feedback on their classroom performance, and to
receive coaching from colleagues (Menges 1985). The thrust, thus, is
developmental rather than judgmental.
WHAT ASSESSMENT METHODS SHOULD BE USED BY FACULTY FOR THE PURPOSE OF INSTRUCTIONAL IMPROVEMENT?
A number of methods have been
employed in formative peer evaluation. They include direct classroom
observation, videotaping of classes, evaluation of course materials, an
assessment of instructor evaluation of the academic work of students, and
analysis of teaching portfolios. Hart has identified six instructional events
occurring during delivery that should be critiqued by knowledgeable colleagues:
1. The place where and the time when classes are taught and other physical
factors affecting delivery;
2. The procedures used by the teacher in conducting the class;
3. The teacher's use of language to inform, explain, persuade, and motivate,
and the language students use in responding and reacting to the teacher;
4. The roles played by teacher and students as they interact;
5. The relationship of what is occurring in a particular class to other
classes, disciplines, and the curriculum in general; and
6. The outcomes of teaching, as reflected in student learning (1987).
Videotaping of classes should be employed for its unique potential in
improving teaching: validating feedback from other sources (Perlberg 1983),
documenting and preserving the strengths of teachers, identifying weaknesses,
and comparing teaching at different points in teachers' careers (Lichty and
Peterson 1979). In formative peer evaluation, video playback/feedback should be
considered more than an alternative to classroom observation.
Informed peers are ideally suited to assess colleagues' course materials and
evaluation of students' academic work. As McCarthey and Peterson suggest, these
materials "provide an overview of the curriculum taught, information about
teaching strategies, and details about assignments given. Materials can indicate
types of communication with students...the kind of management system used, and
resources provided to students....There is a plausible logical connection
between quality materials and quality classroom performance for many, but not
all teachers" (1988, p. 261). Cohen and McKeachie's classification cited earlier
is especially instructive in describing what materials faculty could examine and
how to complete what otherwise might be a daunting task (1980).
Several program examples in which formative peer evaluation has been employed
are described in some detail in the text. Readers are urged to consider each
program carefully, for each has its worthy elements.
WHAT FACTORS CAN DETRACT FROM FACULTY MEMBERS' WILLINGNESS TO PARTICIPATE IN PROGRAMS DESIGNED TO IMPROVE TEACHING?
On the basis of
the arguments presented thus far, it would appear that formative peer evaluation
should be embraced for the betterment of the academy. We know, however, that use
of this form of instructional improvement activity has been negligible. A number
of reasons have been cited for the unwillingness of faculty to participate in
the various methods of formative colleague assessment.
The disincentives include faculty attitudes toward academic freedom; their
perceptions of the representativeness, accuracy, and typicality of what is
evaluated; their conception of the objectivity of those who conduct the
assessment; and their values with respect to the institution's rewards and
incentives. Ways must be found to convince faculty that what they may consider
disincentives can be opportunities for professional development. For example,
having classes observed and materials assessed by colleagues for the purpose of
instructional improvement no more should be considered a threat to academic
freedom than would having colleagues critique a proposed manuscript for
publication. And including videotaping of classes and peer review of course
materials and of instructor evaluations of students' academic work, in addition
to classroom observation, should make the process more credible to the faculty.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO ENCOURAGE FACULTY TO PARTICIPATE IN THE PROGRAMMING?
Scholars insist there are several ways of enhancing the
process that will improve the likelihood faculty will develop and take part in
formative peer evaluation. Besides convincing faculty that the "disincentives" can be opportunities rather than liabilities, the process might be enhanced by
involving the faculty in the design and implementation of the program, in the
establishment of standards of effective teaching upon which performance will be
assessed, in programs that provide training in methods of supervision and
communication, and in the interpretation and integration of data provided by
students, administrators, and colleagues, as well as faculty members'
HOW CAN FACULTY, STUDENTS, AND COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES BENEFIT FROM FORMATIVE PEER EVALUATION OF TEACHING?
suggested that a number of personal and institutional benefits might be realized
from faculty participation in the formative peer evaluation of teaching.
Researchers have found not only "that" but "how" teaching improves when faculty
avail themselves of programs in which they work collaboratively to improve
teaching after taking part in such programs.
Studies also appear to show that faculty morale and collegiality improve when
faculty are involved in formative peer evaluation. While student learning may
improve when faculty take part in such programs, that is a difficult claim to
substantiate, since many variables besides teaching affect student learning. At
this time, there is not enough evidence to suggest that the tenure status of
junior faculty is enhanced when they have participated in formative peer
WHAT RECOMMENDATIONS EMERGE FROM A STUDY OF FORMATIVE PEER EVALUATION?
1. Faculty evaluation should include largely separate
formative and summative tracks.
2. Formative evaluation should include nonjudgmental descriptions of faculty
members' teaching by colleagues, administrators, and, where available, teaching
consultants as well as students.
3. Faculty should be encouraged to take part in yearlong programs of
formative peer evaluation of teaching every few years.
4. Faculty should take leadership in the design and implementation of
programs of formative evaluation of teaching.
5. Faculty should be provided opportunities for training in the skills needed
to conduct formative peer evaluation.
6. The involvement of the faculty in the formative evaluation of teaching
should be guided by expertise in appropriate areas of the knowledge base of
7. Formative peer evaluation should include observation, videotaping,
evaluation of materials, assessment of instructor evaluations of the students,
and analysis of teaching portfolios.
8. Institutional rewards and incentives should be structured to demonstrate
to faculty that participation in formative peer evaluation of teaching truly is
9. Research should proceed along several potentially lucrative lines: the
interaction of variables in specific institutional contexts; the tie between
participation in formative peer evaluation and motivational theory;
documentation and reporting experiences with formative peer assessment; and
rigorous empirical and ethnographic study of programs currently in place.
Austin, A.E. 1992a. "Supporting Junior Faculty
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edited by M.D. Sorcinelli and A.E. Austin. New Directions for Teaching and
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Cohen, P.A., and W.J. McKeachie. 1980. "The Role of Colleagues in the
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Hart, F.R. 1987. "Teachers Observing Teachers." In Teaching at an Urban
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McCarthey, S.J., and K.D. Peterson. 1988. "Peer Review of Materials in Public
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Menges, R.J. 1985. "Career-Span Faculty Development." College Teaching 33:
Pew Higher Education Research Program. May 1989. "The Business of the
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Scriven, M.S. 1985. "New Frontiers of Evaluation." Evaluation Practices 7:
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