Centre for Development of Teaching & Learning (CDTL)
In this Special Column, we revisit peer review as a tool for professional development and share how we can re-think and harness some of its affordances to help improve teaching and learning.
Gan, M. J. S. (2023, March 29). Observing teaching - Can peer review provide evidence of teaching impact?. Teaching Connections. https://blog.nus.edu.sg/teachingconnections/2023/03/29/observing-teaching-can-peer-review-provide-evidence-of-teaching-impact/
Peer review of teaching is widely regarded as a key strategy to enhancing continuous professional growth and development of teaching expertise (Lawson, 2011). On the ground, however, the practice of observing, evaluating, and reporting on teaching efficacy during lectures and tutorials tends to vary markedly, depending on who is observing, what is understood as the purpose of the review, and how it is carried out between observer and those being observed (O’Leary, 2017). In short, if peer reviews are to be used as evidence of teaching impact, there is a need to re-think why and how we conduct peer reviews (see blogpost A Peer Review for Mutual Gains).
While peer review of teaching is recognised as an important means of improving the quality of teaching and learning, it’s not without distractions and contestations. Some of the concerns raised by teachers include:
- The use of high-stakes performance-based approaches to carry out peer review often results in undue stress on both the observer and observee, the reluctance of teachers to ‘take risk to innovate’ for fear of unfavourable comments, and trying to ‘play the game’ by following a template of ‘good practice’ during observation.
- There is concern about observer credibility, subjectivity, and fairness. Peers may be uncomfortable or reluctant to be critical of their colleagues.
- Uncertainty or confusion regarding the expectation of the roles of the observer and observee
- The notions of trust and confidentiality are highlighted as fundamental in encouraging honest conversations and reflection on teaching.
- The quality of feedback and critical reflective thinking are paramount.
On the flip side, here are some ways to re-think our approaches to peer review:
- Promote collective and shared dialogue. Find and get together a group of colleagues with whom we feel we can discuss our teaching in a constructive and critically reflective manner. Consider the use of Learning Communities1 to engage colleagues in transforming one-to-one peer review into a shared, collegial, and inquiry-focused experience.
- Create opportunities to engage in critical reflection of our practice. Set aside time (aka ‘protected time’) and orientate goals toward using available evidence to unpack and make sense of our experiences of teaching over time and reflect on our impact to help students develop better understandings of the disciplines that we teach.
- Consider review of teaching as a partnership with students to collaboratively identify and discuss the shared learning experiences, and critically reflect by drawing on both teacher and students’ own perspectives and experiences.
- Be wary of pitfalls. Ensure both observer and observee are clear about the purpose of the observation/review; ‘unload’ and discuss prior observation experiences; approach observation as an exploratory tool to inquire about our teaching practices rather than an assessment tool; have a shared understanding of the purpose and use of constructive feedback; and most importantly, teachers need to see observation of teaching as part of our own professional growth rather than something that is to be ‘done and over with’.
- Find out more about the Teaching Enhancement Grant (TEG) Learning Communities and how you can initiate and/or participate in such a community.
Lawson, T. (2011). Sustained classroom observation: What does it reveal about changing teaching practices? Journal of Further and Higher Education, 35(3), 317- 337. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2011.558891
O’Leary, M. (ed.) (2017). Reclaiming lesson observation: Supporting excellence in teacher learning. Routledge.
Mark GAN is an Associate Director of the Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL) in NUS. He has been involved in a wide variety of higher educational initiatives and programmes to enhance professional development of staff, such as courses for developing a Teaching Portfolio and writing of teaching inquiry grants. His research interests include feedback and assessment, and the impact of academic development work on teaching and learning. Mark has a PhD in Education from the University of Auckland, supervised by Professor John Hattie.
Mark can be reached at email@example.com.