What is it?

Traditionally, peer observation of teaching (PO) comprises part of a unit's peer evaluation of teaching which as per the faculty handbook, should be based both on classroom observations and review of course materials. While often thought of as one way to evaluate teaching for promotion and tenure, PO is generally a process whereby one educator observes a colleague teaching to facilitate reflection and discussion to aid the improvement of student learning (Bennet & Barp, 2008).

What are the Major Models of PO?

Peer observation of teaching can be used for both summative and formative purposes. There are four major forms of PO:

  1. The evaluation model involves a designated senior faculty member who observes and evaluates teaching for the purpose of making high-stakes judgement related to promotion, tenure, or retention (Gosling, 2013). The imbalance in status, the judgmental nature of the teaching observation, and the unidirectional manner in which feedback is provided may compromise the effectiveness of the model as a tool for improving teaching and learning (O'Keefe, 2009).
  2. The developmental model involves an educational developer or an expert teacher acting as an observer for the purpose of providing feedback on how to improve teaching and learning. Here, the relationship of the observer to the observed faculty is based on the hierarchy of expertise.
  3. The collaborative model involves colleagues who observe each other in a reciprocal process for the purpose of stimulating improvement in teaching and student learning through dialogue, and self and mutual reflection. The relationship between the observer and the observed faculty is based on equality, mutual trust and respect, and must include confidentiality and the creation of a non-judgmental environment (Hammersley-Fletcher & Orsmond, 2005).
  4. The hybrid model combines the formative approaches of developmental and collaborative PO and may be an optimal model (Yiend, et al, 2004). Given that the goal of collaborative PO is to support excellent teaching through dialogue and reflection on evidence-based practices, educational developers have an important role in bringing the complementary discourse of evidence-based instructional practices into the feedback-giving process of collaborative PO.

Why do it?

Peer observation of teaching is a means of enhancing the quality of teaching and learning and supporting effective faculty development in higher education. There are many benefits of successful peer observation of teaching:

  • It helps to prevent pedagogical solitude by making teaching more visible and encouraging ongoing critical reflection and development among faculty about the quality of their teaching (Gosling, 2013).
  • It fosters a community around the scholarship of teaching and learning through the diffusion of evidence-based practices (Lane et al., 2020).
  • It demonstrates to students departmental commitment to effective teaching practices (Sullivan, et al., 2012).
  • Feedback from peers provides qualitative evidence to substantiate student evaluations which generally focus on their levels on satisfaction rather than any deep perspectives on pedagogy (O'Keefe et al., 2009).

How Does it Work?

The evaluative PO model primarily serves the purpose of appraisal and involves senior administrative or academic faculty reviewing the artifacts of teaching and conducting classroom observations to ensure compliance with quality teaching and promote best practices. In contrast, three other PO models developmental, collaborative, and hybrid are explicitly non-judgmental in orientation and focus on providing formative feedback to improve teaching and student learning.

Evaluative PO:

The teaching of students, per the Faculty Handbook, is central to the mission of Oregon State University. The ways in which instructors facilitate the learning experience of students in the classroom environment are of such significance to the student experience of learning that data collected from classroom observation is an important component of peer evaluation of instruction (Bell & Cooper, 2013). Given its importance as evidence of effective teaching performance, it is crucial that the PO process be objective, valid, and reliable (Kohut et al., 2007). Successful implementation of peer observation requires the adoption of a structured peer observation process and training of observers. The peer observation process comprises of three stages:

  1. A pre-observation meeting that involves discussing the process and gaining an understanding of the context of the session to be observed.
  2. The actual observation.
  3. A post-observation feedback meeting that entails review of the observation and an exchange of ideas between the observer and observed instructor about what went well and strategies for improvement (Siddiqui et al., 2007).

Evaluating teaching is complex and doing peer observations well is a demanding, yet valuable undertaking. This points to the benefits of training OSU evaluation of teaching peer observers. CTL staff are available to provide short (20 - 25 minutes) sparkshops on the observation of teaching process and the best practices for giving constructive post-observation feedback ([email protected]).

Formative PO:

Peer observation of teaching may also occur as a formative professional development experience in which faculty members collaborate to observe each other in a reciprocal process, provide constructive feedback to their colleagues, and engage in reflective dialogue about effective teaching practices. When done well, formative, collaborative PO is coordinated, supported, and integrated at a college or department/school level and participation is voluntary (Bell & Copper 2013). Reciprocal peer observation of teaching between departmental academic colleagues with shared disciplinary content knowledge and understanding of how to teach the subject can be mutually beneficial for both the observer and the observed instructor (Yiend et al., 2104).

Situating formative collaborative PO within collegial partnerships in a department or school unit can also help to alleviate faculty members' concerns about being the subject of 'criticism' and 'evaluation' during the formal peer observation of teaching exercise (O'Keefe et al., 2009). For this reason, it is recommended that faculty members engage in formative PO prior to formal evaluative observation of their teaching (Newman et al., 2012).

Collaborative PO encompasses a four-step cyclical process. The first three steps are similar to the steps of the evaluative peer observation process. The fourth step in the cyclical process is reflection. After completing a round of reciprocal observations and giving and receiving feedback, peer observation partners meet to review the experience, reflect on their learnings, takeaways, and what they did as a result of feedback to improve their teaching (Atkinson & Bolt, 2010). 

A key principle in collaborative PO is the concept of feedback as non-judgmental dialogue between "critical friends" (Bell & Cooper, 2013, p. 62). This means that collaborative PO participants should not be 'critical' or 'friends' in stand-alone terms (Shortland, 2010).

  • Being critical friends relies greatly on creating supportive, trusting relationships that emphasize respect between the faculty members involved. A climate of mutual respect generates working relationships that enhance collaborative critical reflection on teaching, and giving and receiving constructive feedback.
  • It is important to build the capability of prospective participants in collaborative PO to give and receive feedback in ways that are constructive and will lead to improved teaching practice. CTL staff are available to provide short sparkshops (20 - 25 minutes) on the framework for setting up collaborative peer observation partnerships in departments, and the best practices for providing constructive feedback ([email protected]).

Guidelines and Templates for Implementing Peer Observation

Here are a few research-informed resource guides that academic units could use to develop and sustain peer observation of teaching practices aimed at maximizing the benefits of effective and reflective teaching:

  • Framework for implementing department-driven evaluative PO: This guides outlines the three steps of the PO process. Representative forms and templates are included to help focus the process.
  • Framework for developing a department/school collaborative PO: This guide outlines the steps for developing a successful collaborative PO program within a department/school unit. Departments and schools can adapt the guide to meet the specific teaching and learning needs in their academic units.
  • Implementing collaborative PO: This guide describes the four-step cyclical process of collaborative PO. Representative forms and templates are included to help focus the process.
  • Giving and receiving feedback: Post-observation feedback motivates faculty, clarifies and provides a better understanding of some aspects of their teaching. Giving and receiving quality feedback adds depth and meaning to the observation process. This guide discusses dos and don'ts, and the criteria for providing constructive learning-focused feedback.

References

Atkinson, J. A., & Bolt, S. (2010). Using teaching observations to reflect upon and improve teaching in higher education. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 10(3), 1-19

Bell, M., & Cooper, P. (2013). Peer observation of teaching in university departments: A framework for implementation. International Journal for academic Development, 18(1), 60-73.

Bennet, S., & Barp, D. (2008). Peer observation--a case for doing it online. Teaching in Higher Education, 13(5), 559-570.

Gosling, D. (2002). Models of peer observation of teaching. LTSN Generic Center Learning and Teaching Support Network, 1 – 6.

Gosling, D. (2013). Collaborative peer-supported review of teaching. In J. Sachs & M. Parsell (eds.). Peer review of learning and teaching in higher education: International perspectives (pp. 13-31), Dordrecht Springer.

Hammersley-Fletcher, L., & Orsmond, P. (2005). Reflecting on reflective practice within peer observation. Studies in Higher Education, 30(2), 213-224.

Kohut, G. F., Burnap, C., & Yon, M. G. (2007). Peer observation of teaching: Perceptions of the observer and the observed. College Teaching, 55(1), 19-25.

Lane, A. K., McAlpin, J. D., Earl, B., Feola, S. Lewis, J. E. (2020). Innovative teaching knowledge stays with users. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United State of America. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2012372117 

Newman, L. R., Roberts, D. H., & Schwartstein, R. M. (2012). Harvard Medical School peer observation of teaching handbook. Available from www.mededportal.org/publication/9150.

O’Keefe, M., Lecouteur, A., Miller, J., & McGowan, U. (2009). The colleague development program: A multidisciplinary program observation partnerships. Medical Teacher, 31, 1060-1065.

Siddiqui, Z. S., Jonas-Dwyer, D., & Carr, S. E. (2007). Twelve tips for peer observation of teaching. Medical Teacher, 29, 297-300.

Shortland, S. (2010). Feedback within peer observation: Continuing professional development and unexpected consequences. Innovations in Education and Reaching International, 47(3), 295 – 304.

Sullivan, P. B., Buckle, A., Nicky, G., & Atkinson, S. H. (2012). Peer observation of teaching as a faculty development tool. BMC Medical Education, 12(26), 1-6.

Yiend, J., Weller, S., & Kinchin, I. (2014). Peer observation of teaching: The interaction between peer review and developmental models of practice. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 38(4), 465-484