A Menu for Peer Review of Teaching: The Case Study of the UNL School of Music

February 28, 1997

In 1994 the American Association of Higher Education (AAHE) began a new project, "From Idea to Prototype: The Peer Review of Teaching," designed to enhance the quality of university teaching by developing strategies for the peer review of teaching that were analogous to disciplinary peer review of research and creative activity. Departments in related disciplines from the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and arts were selected from public and private universities with strong research programs. The School of Music at the University of Nebraska was one of two departments that represented the discipline of music. In an inaugural AAHE workshop at Stanford University, we spent six focused and stimulating days studying and practicing the strategies and rewards of peer review of teaching. Unfortunately, back in Nebraska, our newly acquired insights initially received only mild interest from our colleagues.

The catalyst was our university's stipulation that all files for tenure and promotion contain documented evidence of peer review of teaching. The School of Music was instantly galvanized into seeking active solutions to the challenges posed by this mandate. The main challenge -- one familiar to members of CMS -- was to find equitable ways to evaluate the distinctive types of teaching offered in the three characteristic venues of the music department: the classroom, the rehearsal room, and the applied music studio. The latter, in particular, does not lend itself easily to traditional modes of peer review.

We attempted to meet these challenges head-on, by establishing a small but committed working group with an ambitious agenda: to draft a set of thorough yet flexible guidelines that would allow each kind of teaching to be reviewed by peers in the department and externally and that could be used for reappointment, tenure, and promotion reviews. Each committee member, either alone or with a partner, worked on a model for the documentation of his or her own teaching. The recommendations produced by this committee, "A Menu for Peer Review of Teaching," were discussed and swiftly adopted by our faculty. They have already proved extremely effective in recent discussions of candidates for reappointment and promotion. Space does not allow a thorough presentation of the entire "Menu for Peer Review" here. What follows is a brief summary of two aspects of the Menu: a new model for a studio-teaching portfolio, and a plan for a peer partnership for classroom observation.

The performance faculty desired a peer review system that could promote self-growth and in which the candidate could have control of the process. A structure for interchange among peer partners was developed. Four areas seemed important to address with respect to studio teaching, along with several related questions: (1) Content: Does the teacher know the repertoire for the instrument, and does he/she teach it? Does the teacher have an overall plan of development for the individual student? (2) Delivery: Is there specific evidence of feedback to the student? Does the teacher offer immediate and effective diagnosis of problems? (3) Student learning: Is there evidence that the individual student is learning and improving? (4) Improvement of teaching: Is the teacher staying current in the field? Is the teacher actively developing his/her own teaching resources and methods?

One way to develop case studies over a period of time is to use peer partners for documentation of these four areas of concern. The professor developing the case study can choose a colleague who will provide feedback. Goals and specific lesson objectives are identified by the professor prior to the videotaping of a lesson. The professor watches the videotape of the lesson and logs the events that occurred during the lesson, identifying the best "teaching-learning" segment. He/she then chooses from a list of focus questions one or two that best incorporate the pedagogical issues that arose in the lesson. These questions direct attention to general issues of content, delivery, and assessment of student learning.

The videotape and self-evaluation are examined by the peer reviewer, who comments on the video, the log, and the choice of the most productive segment. The reviewer may offer alternative focus questions, creating an opportunity for further reflection about new directions. When this process is repeated several times for the same student, a substantial case study is created, which can document growth and development of both the student and the teacher. An effective teaching portfolio for studio teachers might also include syllabi, student packets, a statement of teaching philosophy, and other materials helpful to the reviewer.

We designed our plan for peer review of classroom teaching as an alternative both to the traditional single visitation to the class of an untenured professor and to the videotaping of a single class. The new plan provides for a richly documented peer partnership, one that can function for both formative (developmental) and summative (evaluative) purposes. Two members of the Peer Review Committee formed a pilot partnership. Both of us teach undergraduate and graduate music classes, and our philosophical and practical approaches to teaching were similar. In a short planning session we identified goals for the partnership and set up the process as follows:

  • three visits to each other's class, widely spaced throughout the semester;
  • a meeting before each class visit to discuss goals and expectations for the visit;
  • follow-up meetings after each visit to provide verbal feedback of a mainly formative nature;
  • a written report following each visit that would summarize the issues discussed in the meeting.

Each of us produced a final reflective statement on what we had learned through this partnership process and how it had affected our own teaching. We also wrote an evaluative report about the teaching of our partner as observed and discussed through the course of the semester. This report was included in the reappointment file of one participant and will feature in the promotion file of the other. Although the process involved a substantial investment of time from both partners, the benefits were immensely valuable. The partnership provided a balanced view of each professor's teaching and the opportunity to see change in response to the process of observation and feedback. It certainly mitigated the stress of the single surprise classroom visit, and it allowed us to witness change and growth in our respective students over the course of a semester. Such peer partnerships can work extraordinarily well to foster and to document effective teaching.

In our development of guidelines for peer review of teaching in the studio and the classroom, we relied on a number of published resources. Particularly helpful were: John Centra, "Reflective Faculty Evaluation" (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publications, 1993), and Pat Hutchings, ed., "Making Teaching Community Property: A Menu for Peer Collaboration and Peer Review" (Washington, D.C.: American Association for Higher Education, 1996).

We will gladly furnish copies of our guidelines for peer review upon request.

1935 Last modified on May 1, 2013
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