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Peer Feedback on Your Teaching

Crystal Tse, CATE Associate Director
June 13, 2022

WHAT? Heading link

Good instruction involves using data to assess the impact of, and inform improvements to your teaching, known as “reflective teaching” (Brookfield 2017).

One aspect of reflective teaching is peer feedback. The best known form of peer feedback is peer teaching observations, but it can take on many forms.

Peers (colleagues, mentors, and other instructors) can give you valuable feedback on different facets of your teaching:

  • Instruction in the classroom: This is where a colleague will visit one of your class sessions and provide feedback on your teaching strategies demonstrated in the session.
  • Course materials: Your peers can also review your course syllabus, assessments (e.g., assignments, tests, quizzes), and materials you use during course delivery (e.g., powerpoint slides, assigned readings, videos)
  • Learning management system course site (i.e., Blackboard) and online teaching materials: If you are teaching portions of, or all of your course online, a peer can review your course site (e.g., organization and design of the course) as well as your use of educational technology and opportunities you have provided for students to interact with you and each other.
  • Teaching portfolio: Your peer can also provide feedback on broader aspects of your teaching beyond the classroom (e.g., teaching statement, student evaluations, scholarly teaching activity, etc.)
Peer feedback

In this teaching guide, you will learn more about: 

  • Benefits of getting feedback from peers on your teaching
  • Best practices and recommendations for getting peer feedback
  • Different instruments for conducting peer observations
  • Principles of giving and receiving effective feedback

WHY? Heading link

Engaging in peer review of teaching comes with several benefits.

You can:

  • Gain a sense of community: Instructors may often feel as if they are teaching and dealing with the challenges of this work in isolation. Soliciting and giving feedback to your peers can help to break down silos and create community by sharing things that have worked well and lessons learned with your colleagues (Hutchings, 1996).
  • Go beyond student course evaluations for feedback: Recent research has called into question the validity of, and common practice of solely using course evaluations to measure teaching effectiveness (see Spooren et al., 2013 and Stark & Freishtat, 2014 for a review). It is important to consider collecting data from different sources to ensure that all the feedback you are collecting reveals a similar story and outcomes. You may also consider reviewing your student course evaluations with a peer, with a focus on qualitative feedback, to gain another perspective on the feedback you are getting from students. See CATE’s teaching guide on Student Feedback for further reading on this topic.
  • Leverage peer feedback to improve your teaching: Peer review can help to increase critical reflection of teaching and can motivate and encourage you to experiment with new teaching methods. Research has shown that instructors who participate in peer review incorporate more active learning strategies in their courses, increase the quality of their feedback to students, and report enjoying discussing teaching with their colleagues (Bernstein, 2000).
    • Observing your peers can also help enhance your teaching: If you take on the role as a peer reviewer, observing your colleague’s teaching techniques can spark new ideas for your own teaching. One way to do this is engaging in teaching squares, a program that typically involves a group of 4 instructors (in the same or different disciplines) who visit each other’s classes during the semester (Haave, 2018). The instructors meet regularly to discuss their observations – not to provide evaluative feedback but to gather ideas that they might want to implement in their own courses.

HOW? Heading link

Best Practices/Recommendations:

  • Set goals for using peer feedback. How do you intend on using this feedback? For example, will this feedback be used informally to improve your teaching? To provide evidence of your growth and excellence as an instructor for promotion and advancement purposes? To be used with your department on setting norms for what effective teaching looks like?
  • How do you and your department define effective teaching? The approach to peer feedback on teaching varies widely by department and college, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. One question to consider is how your department defines effective teaching – what are your department’s expectations on teaching? Consider looking to the literature and evidence-based teaching practices to create this definition. Department members may need to come to consensus, establish expectations, and develop a classroom observation instrument together as a department. By creating a shared definition of effective teaching and the process by which to provide feedback, you ensure that the process is fair, rigorous, and constructive for the instructor.
  • Evaluative and non-evaluative peer feedback: Expectations should be set in the department prior to peer review about how the peer observation report will be used. Peer review of teaching can be non-evaluative, where the focus is on improving and developing one’s teaching, or evaluative, where materials are used for promotion and tenure and advancement decisions. Questions to consider are: Who will own the final peer review report? What will the report and feedback be used for?
  • What other sources of data do you want to collect? A classroom observation provides just one snapshot of your course during one semester of your teaching. Consider doing a classroom observation more than once, and conducting observations across multiple courses and over time, to help you reflect on how you have developed your teaching. The evaluation of teaching should be holistic and include multiple forms of data (feedback from students and peers, self-assessment, and looking at the education research literature) that tell a coherent narrative about your teaching.

Example Peer Observation Protocol

The peer observation protocol will differ by department and/or college, depending on their departmental norms and processes that are in place. We show one example of a peer observation protocol with best practices and recommendations adapted from the University of Oregon, Indiana University Bloomington, UC Berkeley, and Vanderbilt University. Think about how you might adapt this protocol to suit the needs of your teaching and/or your department.

Example observation instruments

When selecting, adapting, or creating your peer observation instrument, consider what will work best for you for the kind of feedback you wish to receive – what questions do you have about your teaching? What are your departmental norms for how observations are typically conducted? Observation instruments vary in their structure, and can be based on a rubric or checklists of teaching strategies, measure the frequency of student and instructor behaviors, or be open-ended.

Considerations for Your Course Context

When making your plan to get peer feedback on your teaching, consider the following questions:

  • How much time and resources do you have? Engaging in the peer review process can take a significant amount of time (e.g., choosing an observation instrument, meeting with your colleague prior to the classroom observation). Consider doing this once or twice during the semester that works best for your schedule.
  • Who would you like to ask to provide feedback? Instructors typically ask for feedback on their teaching from those in their department, but you can also consider asking a colleague from a different department to provide feedback (see the teaching squares model). Consider asking a peer who is familiar with your course content, or has significant teaching experience. Importantly, consider asking a colleague whom you trust and who will be able to provide you with constructive feedback on your teaching (Bandy, 2015).

Giving and Receiving Effective Feedback

When serving as a peer reviewer, how should you frame your feedback to your peer so that this feedback is heard and understood as well as possible?