According to Brickman, Gormally, and Marchand Martella (2017), student evaluations at the end of each semester along with peer evaluations are the two sources through which faculty can receive feedback. That being said, faculty largely reported being dissatisfied with the information they received from student feedback. Specifically because student evaluations, “do not provide constructive information; have poor response rates; design do not align with instructors’ objectives; the evaluations only measure student satisfaction; and the process is not set up to truly engage students to attain useful and insightful feedback” (Brickman, Gormally & Marchand Martella, 2017, p4).These three authors advocate for structured, intentional, peer observations as one answer to the gap in feedback faced by faculty. “When peer evaluations are performed, they are more supportive of evidence-based teaching than student evaluations.”
So what is peer observation?
Peer observation “involves observers providing descriptive feedback to their peers on learning and teaching practice as a means to improve quality of teaching” (Sullivan et al. 2012). Basically, when educators observe each others’ practice with the goal of learning with and from one another. Benefits of peer observation for the practicing educator also include: sharing best practices, building awareness of your own teaching practice, identifying areas to improve or try something new, enhancing student learning by connecting the dots between learning design and student feedback, and engaging in a community of educators within your setting.
Effective peer observation includes both feedback and reflection, and focuses on individual educators’ needs (Sullivan et al., 2012). Participating in peer observation provides opportunities to both get and give feedback. Benefits of peer observation for the observer include: seeing practice to emulate, gain student perspective, connect with and support colleagues within and beyond your unit, learn about different teaching technologies, and set aside time to reflect on teaching. All educators have strengths and opportunities for growth, peer observation can help you identify both! Seeking out peer feedback, and providing feedback through observations can contribute to the ongoing construction of a professional community of educators at Michigan State!
The study conducted by Sullivan et al. (2012) found the practice of peer observation of teaching to be a constructive way to improve courses and learning design, to support and encourage educators, and to reinforce good practice. All that said, participating in peer observation is highly encouraged as a part of your educator practice at MSU. And remember: “It is very important to note that peer observations are NOT evaluative and are NOT tied to your annual review process (regardless of role). They are a training and development tool to facilitate reflection and personal growth regarding teaching” (Baker, 2021). Peer observation of teaching is essentially confidential between you and your observer/the observed. It’s up to the observed educator if they want to share their takeaways and/or action plans with their administrators.
Thanks to colleagues at The University of Queensland Institute for Teaching and Learning Innovation, Leeds Metropolitan University, Cambridge Assessment International Education Teaching and Learning Team, University of Toronto Center for Teaching Support & Innovation, University of Texas at Austin Faculty Innovation Center, University of South Carolina Center for Teaching Excellence, and the Northeastern Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning Through Research.
Brickman, P., Gormally, C. & Marchand Martella, A. (2016) Making the grade: Using instructional feedback and evaluation to inspire evidence-based teaching, CBE—Life Sciences Education, 15,4.https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.15-12-0249
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. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6920-12-26
Baker, A. (2021) Peer Observations, #iteachmsu Commons. https://iteach.msu.edu/iteachmsu/groups/iteachmsu/stories/2106
Race, P. et al. (2009) Using peer observation to enhance teaching. Leeds Met Press. ISBN 978-0-9560099-7-5
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