University at Albany

Procedures for Promotion and Tenure Review

Peer Review of Teaching—Suggestions and Strategies1

The choice of methods for obtaining adequate data for the purpose of peer evaluation of teaching is generally left to the discretion of each department or school. The differences in the traditions and practice of disciplines as diverse as economics, music, English and physics may well be reflected in similarly diverse approaches to the evaluation of teaching.  Even within a single academic discipline, teaching responsibilities in a university may run the gamut from large freshman survey courses through the supervision of small graduate research seminars to the direction of doctoral dissertations.  Responsible evaluation of teaching recognizes both differences among disciplines and the diversity of efforts within, and approaches to, a discipline by individual faculty.  Each department is expected to take the initiative in devising criteria and methods of evaluation appropriate to its discipline and to the spectrum of its responsibilities.

Best practices in evaluation of teaching show that using multiple sources of evidence, connecting evaluation of teaching to student learning outcomes, and taking into account faculty efforts to innovate in their teaching, all serve to enhance efforts to document teaching the faculty member’s teaching contributions.  

A necessary condition of the peer review is that the department establish a credible and defensible method of evaluating teaching.  This evaluation should identify instruction which significantly exceeds or falls short of the expectations of the department: the department evaluation should provide both a judgment of the instructor’s effectiveness and an explanation of the evidence used to arrive at that judgment. 

What Sources of Evidence can be used for Peer Review of Teaching?

The procedures developed by each department will decide materials most important to an evaluation of teaching in the discipline. The list below gives some idea of the variety of evidence that could be used to develop a cogent judgment of a faculty member’s effectiveness in teaching.

  • Course syllabi, learning goals and objectives (and the connection of these materials to the larger department or program curriculum plan)
  • Assignments: papers, problem sets, lab reports, projects, examinations (and the extent to which these assignments assist the student to achieve the learning goals and objectives described in the syllabi)
  • Course materials: required textbooks, reading lists, audio-visual materials, online documents, etc. (and the extent to which these assignments assist the student to achieve the learning goals and objectives described in the syllabi)
  • Student products offering insight into student learning and performance outcomes: examinations, portfolios,  student papers, reports, projects, examination answers, portfolios
  • Student feedback:  student evaluations, midterm student feedback, former student testimonials (note: current student testimonials should not be used)
  • Grade distributions
  • Products from independent study projects
  • Theses, dissertations
  • Observations of in-class or online teaching, mentoring

What Questions are relevant for Peer Review?
Below are the kinds of questions faculty peers are in the best position to answer. Peer evaluation of teaching would take into account these questions, and any additional questions that might arise from specific disciplinary realities or innovations the faculty member being reviewed has implemented. (For more a comprehensive description of dimensions appropriate for evaluation, please see next section.)

  • Are course learning objectives clear and appropriate?
  • Is the level or challenge of the courses appropriate?
  • Is the content of the courses appropriate and relevant to their role in the curriculum?
  • Is the coverage of those courses sufficiently comprehensive within the context of current knowledge and practice with the discipline?
  • Is the material of the courses up-to-date and does it reflect an awareness of current issues within the discipline?
  • Is the scholarly content of the courses adequate?
  • Does the instructor exhibit skill in the art of communication?
  • Does the instructor effectively engage students in class?
  • To what extent do students have to practice disciplinary thinking skills in the courses?
  • To what extent to students master the course content?
  • To what extent does the instructor develop new courses or innovative approaches to teaching?
  • Do course assignments and examinations allow for an adequate evaluation of student performance?
  • Are the grading standards of the instructor reasonable?
  • Is the instructor creative and effective in helping students develop independent research skills?
  • Is the instructor accessible to students, and effective in mentoring them?

Additional Description of Appropriate Dimensions for Evaluation

Note: Although these items are presented in a particular order, they are not deliberately organized in a hierarchical manner or order of preference. Evaluations can include any of the following:

  • Clarity and appropriateness of course objectives: Course objectives are stated in the syllabus and clearly communicated to students throughout the course.  These objectives are suitable for the degree program.  Course objectives align with the course description in the bulletin, the course title and/or the department’s consensus as to what students should take away from such a course.  Lecture notes and assignments reinforce these main objectives.
  • Selection of course content: Material taught in course (content, volume, and level of difficulty) is appropriate and challenging for the degree level and the intended audience. Course content (readings, case studies, lectures, and guest lectures) is consistent with the course objectives and represents a satisfactory range of the subject matter.  Content reflects current scholarship and is reasonably similar to what might be taught in a similar course in another top-tier public administration program, as opposed to exclusively representing the instructor’s narrow preference or expertise. 
  • Course organization: Material is organized in a logical, coherent and meaningful manner.  For instance, material later in the semester builds on earlier material, depending on the nature of the course. There is a logical progression of course themes, assignments and in-class activities.  The structure of the course is clearly communicated to students in class, and the syllabus contains a clear course schedule with dates and topics.  Lecture topics are well-organized and connected to overall course themes.
  • Classroom management and engagement of students: The instructor balances the needs and learning styles of different students across the classroom. A comfortable and professional rapport exists between the instructor and students. Students participate actively in the class (e.g. ask and answer questions, contribute to class and small-group discussions regularly).  The instructor creates an environment that encourages participation from all students, constructively limits any one student from dominating the classroom, and ensures discussions relate directly to course material and learning objectives.
  • Students’ mastery of course content: A significant majority of students illustrate the ability to synthesize and analyze the relationship between various concepts.  A significant majority of students demonstrate an ability to critically evaluate new situations, cases, and/or exercises using core concepts and analytical tools.  By the end of the semester, there is a demonstrated improvement in the quality of students’ work and the mastery of technical skills identified in the course objectives (such as written and/or oral presentation techniques, statistical computations, etc).  The competency level of students is demonstrated in the content of written assignments, the substance and quality of class and small group participation, and the level of improvement exhibited over the course of the semester.
  • Effectiveness of instructional materials (e.g., media, PowerPoint slides, handouts, in-class activities, etc.): Instructional materials are designed to help students attain learning objectives.  Materials are diverse and challenging, and elicit student engagement and thoughtfulness.  A variety of learning materials enable individuals with different learning styles to succeed.  Materials provide for opportunities to apply core concepts.
  • Appropriateness of evaluation practices: Students are held accountable for demonstrating competence in the accomplishment of course objectives. In-class and take-home assignments reinforce course objectives. The timing and content of evaluations follows the logic of the course organization. Students clearly understand how they will be graded and expectations for each assignment are clearly stated. The variety of assignments reflects different learning styles.  Assignments permit students to receive regular, meaningful feedback in time to improve their understanding and grade. 
  • Accessibility to students: The instructor is willingly available to meet with students individually and in small groups, and clearly communicates to students his/her openness for fielding questions outside class. Regularly scheduled office hours are clearly communicated to students.  The instructor is available for appointments outside of regularly scheduled office hours. Students are comfortable approaching the instructor to ask questions or to seek clarification on assignments. Instructor responds to student emails in a timely manner.

1 Some of the language and the ideas included in this document come from Senate Bill 8384-07.