What Is Peer Collaboration and Why Is the College Music Society Getting Involved?

October 31, 1996

". . . helping campuses create a culture where good teaching can thrive." These words form the concluding phrase in an intriguing collection of reports by faculty in a variety of academic disciplines. Called "Making Teaching Community Property: A Menu for Peer Collaboration and Peer Review," the volume is one of several issued by the Peer Review of Teaching Project, coordinated by the American Association for Higher Education, with funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The project endeavors "to help campuses move toward peer review together, and to ensure faculty involvement, from the outset, in shaping strategies for peer collaboration and review that would be intellectually rigorous, appropriate to their disciplines, and practically useful in improving the quality of teaching and learning." The aims of this project mesh intimately with that part of our CMS mission dedicated to teaching and to the continuing development of music professionals in the academy.

For some, peer review may call up the image of the senior faculty member uncomfortably conspicuous as the single white-haired soul in a sea of undergraduates observing the efforts of a junior colleague trying to cajole and inspire her students under the strain of the "peer gaze." Classroom visits, set in the proper context (e.g., as reciprocal and supportive experiences) do figure as one of the elements in the larger domain of peer collaboration. There are many others; some are part of the normal academic routine. For instance, curriculum revision typically calls for cooperative thinking about course goals, content, and scheduling. Still other, more recently developed components of peer collaboration and review emphasize student learning rather than techniques of teaching. For instance, you might engage students in a mid-course evaluation to help determine the effectiveness and perhaps adjust the direction of a class. Or you might interview a colleague's students, using questions you have drawn up together. Of course, he gets to do the same. The benefit comes from sharing the results.

Sharing the intellectual basis of a syllabus for a new course with a colleague, mentoring and coaching new faculty, and seeking advice from those at other institutions who teach similar courses, are additional ways pairs of teachers may collaborate. Teaching "circles" and seminars devoted to specific pedagogical issues can involve groups of faculty. One of the more exciting group efforts is the formation of reciprocal tutorials with colleagues in other disciplines. Is there some area of learning outside of music that would refresh and broaden your performance in the classroom? Would you like to find out more about art, politics, and developing technology in Vienna in the early years of the twentieth century, or Tin Pan Alley and New York theater in the '30s and '40s for your Introduction to Music class? Would some cross talk with specialists in memory and knowledge representation, or in imaging and visualization, help you in your theory class or your studio teaching?

More purely evaluative aspects of peer collaboration, besides the typical classroom visit, include the "pedagogical colloquium," where candidates for faculty positions are given the opportunity to reveal their approach to teaching. Also, course portfolios and the more individualized teaching portfolios form "hard copy" evidence for tenure review committees, supporting student evaluations and the usually anecdotal comments from colleagues. Even external review of teachers and courses has been tried, albeit with senior professors on a learn-as-you-go basis.

No doubt you have engaged in some of these activities. So what's new? At the inception of the Teaching Initiative, the issues of "teaching as scholarship" and the lack of serious intellectual conversation about teaching (and, perhaps as a result, the undervaluing of teaching as mere "service") were raised by Lee Schulman of Stanford University. He compared the visions of teacher and scholar he had formed early in his academic career -- the scholar working in quiet isolation in the study or library or laboratory, the teacher involved in the more social aspects of classroom interaction. He went on to say, "What I didn't understand as a new PhD was that I had it backwards! We experience isolation not in the stacks but in the classroom. We close the classroom door and experience pedagogical solitude, whereas in our life as scholars, we are members of active communities: communities of conversation, communities of evaluation, communities in which we gather with others in our invisible colleges to exchange our findings, our methods, and our excuses. . . . The reason teaching [may not be] more valued in the academy is because the way we treat teaching removes it from the community of scholars."

As members of The College Music Society, we acknowledge the high value we place on the enterprise of teaching. We know that serious conversation about teaching does take place because we do it! On the other hand, some of us have experienced its devaluation in concrete, sometimes devastating ways, especially when it counts for less than it should in matters of retention, tenure, and promotion, or when our Society is described -- only by our more recondite colleagues, to be sure -- as "less rigorous" than its more focused disciplinary sisters.

Among the ideas discussed for a CMS theme that would tie in the regional chapter meetings with the national meeting is the thought that, given our new tax status as a professional/educational Society, we are in a position to "MAKE CONNECTIONS" in several areas. The Chapter meeting is a natural place for music teachers at institutions in relatively close proximity to take up some of the strategies of the AAHE Teaching Initiative. AAHE is eager to provide assistance to professional organizations interested in these ideas.

The College Music Society now has a great opportunity: to join in a national effort reaching across all fields of the academy, to "open the classroom door" and to create more tangible ways of improving, evaluating, and celebrating teaching. We have been given a boost_a small grant that supported the panel on peer review at the Atlanta meeting will support another at the Cleveland meeting and, most important, provides for modest honoraria for brief articles in this Newsletter by individuals who may have already undertaken projects like those described and who have something to contribute to "the conversation."

If you are interested in participating, you may commlmicate with the National Office through one or more of its electronic vehicles: 1-800-729-0235, fax: (406) 721-9419; Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or with me directly (John Buccheri, (847) 467-1682; fax: (847-491-5260; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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