Classroom Observations for Evaluating Teaching

Accurate and fair evaluations of teaching effectiveness should include multiple means of measurement. Student ratings are one way to assess teaching, but may be biased by the gender and race of the instructor and may not be reflective of student learning (see summaries of research). To complement student ratings, there are other measures of teaching effectiveness (see Berk 2005 and 2006); some may be impractical to implement immediately because of the time required, like alumni surveys or employer feedback. Peer observations of teaching can add information to student ratings to evaluate teaching and provide additional benefits to a department.  

Classroom observations by other instructors can provide useful information about teaching but should be implemented thoughtfully. Without guidance, observers may be using different criteria to judge teaching; for example, some observers may wish to see smoothly delivered lectures, others may recognize the importance (and messiness) of active learning. In addition, an observer may be distracted by the subject matter —considering whether their favorite part of the subject is given sufficient emphasis. To be fair, classroom observers can use a specific protocol and feedback form to guide their observations and report.

Potential Steps for Peer Observation

Here is one approach to peer observation of teaching for evaluation, which could be adapted to meet departmental needs. Although presented as numbered steps, the procedure is not necessarily sequential.

  1. To choose a protocol for classroom observation, the department may want to consider their shared values. What does the department value in teaching? What does good teaching look like? Currently, many departments are examining their cultures for inclusive practices, so inclusion may be one of the criteria evaluated.
  2. Select or adapt an observation protocol that reflects departmental and personal teaching values. The form you choose will guide the observer’s focus and prompt for some synthesis and evaluation of their observations. The Yale University Center for Teaching and Learning or the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching’s comprehensive list of items to observe provide examples from which you can choose. The short book cited below by Chism and Chism provides effective guidance as well as several simplified protocols.
  3. Choose peer observer(s); this guide suggests some factors to consider when selecting peers.
  4. Before the observations, the instructor being evaluated should meet with the observer to provide some context about the class, teaching goals and instructor choices, as well as class meeting times, locations and modality. As classroom observation also includes review of course materials, the instructor can provide the observer with access to the course syllabus, course outline and assessments.
  5. Peer observers conduct several classroom observations and review the course material following the observation protocols.
  6. After observations are complete, the instructor and the observer may meet to discuss.

Please talk to Duke Learning Innovation if you’d like more information and ideas.

Learning Innovation’s Programs for Formative Feedback

Note that Duke Learning Innovation provides several programs to help instructors teach better with classroom observations. In each case, the goal is specifically not to evaluate teaching for promotion, but to provide the instructor with information to adjust their teaching. In other words, these techniques are for formative evaluation — information for an instructor to act on, rather than a formal evaluation of an instructor’s teaching (which would be a summative evaluation). 

  • Small Group Instructional Feedback – a Learning Innovation consultant conducts a short session with a course’s students mid-semester and organizes the consensus student feedback for an instructor to consider course changes
  • Visit a Classroom – instructors visit each others’ classrooms to gather ideas for their own teaching

Participation in either of these programs is voluntary and an indication that an instructor cares deeply about improving teaching. 

Further Reading

Bandy, J. (2015) Peer Review of Teaching. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved March 23 2021 from

Berk, Ronald A.  (2005)  “Survey of 12 Strategies to Measure Teaching Effectiveness.” International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 17, no. 1 (2005): 48–62. Retrieved March 23 2021 from 

Berk, Ronald A. (2006) Thirteen Strategies to Measure College Teaching: A Consumer’s Guide to Rating Scale Construction, Assessment, and Decision Making for Faculty, Administrators, and Clinicians. 1st ed. Sterling, Va: Stylus Pub, 2006.

Chism, Nancy Van Note, and Grady W. Chism. (2007) Peer Review of Teaching: A Sourcebook. 2nd ed. Bolton, MA: Anker Pub. Co, 2007.

Felder, R. M., and R. Brent. (2004) “How to Evaluate Teaching.” Chemical Engineering Education 38, no. 3 (2004): 200–202. Accessed March 25 2021 from 

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching (nd) “Student Evaluations of Teaching” Retrieved March 22 2021 from 

Yale University Center for Teaching and Learning (nd) “Using Teaching Inventories and Classroom Observation Protocols” Retrieved March 23 2021 from


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My Duke Learning Innovation colleagues Amy Kenyon and Hannah Rogers contributed substantially to this post.