A Peer Review for Mutual Gains

CHEAH Kok Ming
Department of Architecture (DoA), School of Design and Environment (SDE)

CREATE—Conception, Relatability, Evidence, Advice, Takeaway, Enquiry—is a 6-step peer review process shared by Kok Ming for a meaningful experience.

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Peer review is generally perceived as a service in which a more experienced faculty observes a class and reviews the module curriculum of a subject taught by a younger faculty or another peer. Some colleagues confided how it seemed like a chore. One revealed to me his hassle-free use of a template of compliments to cut and paste into various reports. I came across one such report where a careless oversight of not changing the gender pronoun rendered the report useless for me. I saw a peer review report and a reviewer at their worst.

The peer review is an enrichment process for both parties. A thoughtful peer review provides the reviewee a direction for improvement while offering an insightful experience to the reviewer. I used to respond mechanically to the twelve questions in the online Peer Review System like a checklist. I tended to overlook the deeper structure of the teaching demonstrated. If there was anything to gain from this process, it was piecemeal and forgettable.

Now I adopt a 6-step process to “CREATE” better peer reviews. Each step helps in interpreting the teaching observed and identifying qualities for deliberation or development. The acronym “CREATE” alludes that effective teaching will require creative effort.

C for Conception: It is essential for the reviewer to form a conceptual framework of how the teacher has organised the knowledge content for guiding the design, instructional materials and delivery of the lessons. Perusing the module folder and a pre-review meeting will give the reviewer an accurate overview of the reviewee’s teaching narrative and clarify any misconceptions. Knowing the reviewee’s teaching philosophy or the underpinning pedagogy will also sharpen the reviewer’s lens.

R for Relatability: This conceptual framework guides the reviewer in assessing the inter-relational nature of learning activities, assessments and instructional materials, as well as the appropriate use of technology. It examines how these components amalgamate to achieve a coherent and effective learning experience intended by the reviewee’s teaching narrative.

E for Evidence: Identifying evidence helps the reviewer to better connect the teaching intention and its outcome. It validates the effectiveness of the planning and methods used by the reviewee to sustain the learning loop.

A for Advice: Giving advice is the value proposition of the reviewer, whereby the feedback given to the reviewee affords constructive potentials and avoidance of ineffective practices.

T for Takeaway: The structured process helps me to recognise the underlying logic and insights. The takeaway ultimately depends on our attitude towards peer review. For most of us, it may simply be an affirmation of our purpose in education, or a way of helping others to attain excellence.

E for Enquiry: Finally, like the reviewee, the peer review and its takeaways also enable us as reviewers to reflect and enquire about our own teaching. It may even challenge us to unlearn, relearn and rethink how we teach.

I have conducted two rounds of peer reviews recently. From one, I was inspired by the dynamic student interactions using the Miro online collaborative platform. In another, it was an exposure to the idea of threshold concepts enabling students to learn independently. Both encounters have enthused me to consider my teaching and student-centric learning approaches differently. Pat Hutchings, a senior scholar with the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, has described peer review in these words:

Peer review of teaching, in its most powerful forms, is less a matter of judging teachers than improving teaching, with the focus moving increasingly to ways we can help each other improve the quality of our collective contribution to students’ learning. (Hutchings, 1996)

Kok Ming is an architect and associate professor at the Department of Architecture (DoA). He engages his students to reframe conundrums as opportunities.  They enjoy co-creating alternative architectural paradigms from examining challenging issues in land scarcity, future-readiness and recently, the pandemic crisis.

Kok Ming can be reached at akickm@nus.edu.sg.

References

Hutchings P. (1996). Making teaching community property: A menu for peer collaboration and peer review. American Association of Higher Learning.