Best practices of teaching evaluation state that multiple perspectives should be used, including student, peer, and the self (Krishnan et al., 2022). The use of multiple perspectives creates a more robust and equitable evaluation of teaching.
Student Perspective of Teaching
Student ratings, often collected through end-of-semester evaluation forms, are one of the most common ways that teaching is evaluated. The student perspective is important to consider for teaching evaluations because students can provide information on what occurs regularly in the class, how accessible the instructor is, and reflect on the climate of the course.
It’s important to note that while the student perspective is important to consider when evaluating teaching, student evaluations can often be biased and may not be reflective of actual student learning. One study found that student’s written feedback seemed to measure conformity with gendered expectations rather than teaching quality, and was more negative for women (Adams et al., 2021). Another study identified statistically significant biases against women and instructors with non-English speaking backgrounds (Fan et al., 2019). The presence of these biases shows why the use of multiple perspectives is critical for equitable teaching evaluations.
For tips on how to review and make sense of student feedback, please visit Vanderbilt University’s page on Student Evaluations of Teaching.
If you are looking for an additional method for collecting student feedback on your teaching, consider participating in Duke Learning Innovation’s Small Group Instructional Feedback program that is run mid-semester. This voluntary program involves having a Learning Innovation consultant conduct a short feedback session with students. The consultant then organizes the consensus student feedback into a report for the instructor. This report focuses on trends heard from the students and can be helpful for identifying any areas an instructor may want to change for the second half of the semester, as well as for the future.
Peer Perspective of Teaching
Another perspective that should be included when evaluating teaching is the peer, or your colleagues. The peer perspective can be collected through peer observation, where you have an instructor observe and report on another instructor’s teaching. Peers, when trained properly, can evaluate the alignment of course content and targeted skills and gauge how effective the teaching practices are in creating positive, equitable learning opportunities.
Peer observation can be used for both formative and summative evaluation.
Formative peer observation is done to identify areas for improvement and provide feedback to the instructor being observed. Participating in formative peer observation is voluntary and the results of the observation are generally only used by the instructor being observed.
Summative peer observation is used primarily to make decisions in the tenure and promotion process and results in a formal report addressing specific criteria relevant to the decision. The results of this type of observation are shared with the instructor as well as people involved in the tenure and promotion decision making process.
For both formative and summative peer observation, it is important to have a clear protocol or plan for the observation process in place before the observation begins. Additionally, training in how to use the chosen protocol or plan is critical. Below we describe potential steps that can be followed for peer observation, highlighting areas of difference when being used for formative or summative purposes.
- Define areas of importance in teaching. Start by reviewing what is considered good, inclusive teaching, and which aspects of that teaching you want to focus on during observation. You can refer to Learning Innovation’s Teaching Guides for information and additional resources regarding best teaching and course design practices
- For formative observation, these areas of importance may come from the instructor being observed – what does the person being observed want to know about their teaching? What areas would they like specific feedback on? A more holistic review of the fundamentals of teaching would also be useful to include in the formative observation.
- For summative observation, these areas of importance should come from the department – what are the shared values of the department that they would like to reward through tenure and promotion? What teaching practices does the department want to see their instructors using?
- Choose or adapt an observation protocol. Identify an observation protocol to be used during the observation that aligns with the values or areas of importance defined in step one. This protocol will help guide the observer’s focus during the observation.
- For formative observation, it is not as critical to have a rigid protocol. Choosing a specific protocol can be useful, but if the formative observation is happening infrequently or the observer is wanting feedback on a very specific aspect of their teaching, the observer can identify their areas of concern and discuss with their observer about how best to provide feedback. Common methods for structuring note taking during the observation include choosing a specific lens to focus on, taking “double-entry” notes, or mapping a classroom discussion (see pages 10-12 of this handbook for more details).
- For summative observation, it is critical to have a clear protocol in place that will be used for all instructors going up for tenure and promotion decisions. We have included a non-exhaustive list of potential protocols or other resources that may be helpful at the end of this page.
- Choose peer observer(s). This guide suggests some factors to consider when selecting peers to conduct the observations. Some factors may be more relevant for summative observations.
- Train peer observers. To ensure that the observations being conducted are consistent and reliable, observers should be trained on how to conduct peer observations. This includes why the observations are being done, what specifically to look for, how to use any specific protocols, and how to report on their findings. This training is particularly important for summative observations because they are being used in tenure and promotion decisions and it is critical to ensure the observations are being conducted correctly and in an unbiased manner. We have included some important steps to consider including in this training below:
- Presentation of any protocols being used
- Opportunities to practice using the protocols (e.g., on YouTube videos of class sessions)
- Norming sessions where participants discuss their use of the protocol, find any differences in use/interpretation, and build consensus on the best way to use/interpret the protocol
- Presentation of the structure of the observation report
- Pre-meeting. Before the observation, the instructor being observed should meet with the observer to provide some context about the class, teaching goals and instructor choices, and logistical information (e.g., class location, times, modality). The instructor should also provide the observer with access to the course syllabus, course outline, and assessments to be reviewed as part of the observation and ultimately included in the report for a summative observation. The observer should also take time to ask any questions of the instructor being observed, as well as discuss the plan for the observation(s).
- Conduct observations. Peer observers conduct classroom observations and review the course material following any agreed upon observation protocols.
- For formative observation, multiple observations may not be necessary depending on the purpose of the observation. If an instructor wants feedback on how they teach a specific topic, once observation may be enough. However if the instructor wants more broad feedback, planning for multiple observations would provide the most robust information.
- For summative observations, conducting several observations is critical. There are many factors that can impact our teaching practices every day, so using observational data from a single day may not be representative of an instructor’s teaching. Multiple observations should be planned over several weeks to provide robust and representative information.
- Post-meeting. After observations are complete the instructor and observer may meet to discuss.
- For formative observations, this step is critical. Given that the purpose of the observation is to provide feedback to the instructor being observed, a post-meeting is where the observer can share their findings and suggestions with the instructor. If the observer was using a protocol, they should also share any written data they collected.
- For summative observations, this step is recommended. While the observer will be submitting a report to people involved in tenure and promotion decisions, they should still plan to debrief with the instructor being observed to share the report and ask any follow-up questions.
If you are interested in using observation as a way to improve your own teaching, consider participating in Learning Innovation’s Visit a Classroom program. In this program, instructors visit each other’s classrooms to gather ideas for their own teaching.
Peer Observation Protocols/Resources
Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching – Peer Review of Teaching Guide. This guide includes a lot of useful information, but within the section named ‘How to Evaluate’, there is a list of things to potentially look for during an observation (under ‘What to Observe’).
Teaching Dimensions Observational Protocol – this protocol has pre-defined actions to ‘code’ for during an observation which fall into six broad dimensions of teaching that can be observed.
Active Learning Inventory Tool – this inventory would be useful if you are specifically looking to identify the use of active learning in a classroom. This inventory can be adapted or added to other measures depending on the goals of the observation.
Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM (COPUS) – this protocol has pre-defined actions to ‘code’ for during an observation, focused specifically on behaviors of both the students and the instructor.
Classroom Discourse Observation Protocol (CDOP) – this protocol has pre-defined actions to ‘code’ for during an observation, focused specifically on the discourse of the instructor (i.e., the ways the instructor is talking to or with students).
Self Perspective of Teaching
In addition to perspectives from students and peers, instructors’ self-perspective also provides effective evidence in teaching evaluation. Incorporating the self-perspective is valuable because instructors can best speak to their teaching philosophy, challenges, problem-solving approaches, evidence of student learning, and plans for future development.
Common forms of the self-perspective that can be used when evaluating teaching include teaching portfolios, teaching statements, and reflective journals. While all of them are helpful to teaching improvement, they are used in different ways. Teaching portfolios, sometimes called dossiers, are widely used in personnel decisions such as hiring, and promotion and tenure. Teaching statements are mainly used for hiring decisions. Reflective journals are mostly seen in student teachers’ pre-service training (Tompkins, 2009) and are not commonly used in summative evaluations by institutions. In this guide, we’ll focus on teaching portfolios as a major tool for incorporating the self-perspective when evaluating teaching.
A teaching portfolio consists of a comprehensive collection of materials and evidence that is used in a holistic way to demonstrate the instructor’s teaching approach. The teaching portfolio can either include multiple courses to show an overview of the instructor’s teaching experience, or focus on only one course to present a more in-depth perspective. In the latter case, the portfolio is also called a course portfolio. Teaching portfolios should include multiple forms of evidence and existing assessment data, and instructors should be purposeful about selecting evidence about student learning, so that they can refer to this evidence in other materials such as their teaching statements or job/tenure cover letters. Items that can be included in teaching portfolios are (Chism, 2007):
- Description of teaching responsibilities, plus additional tasks such as advising, mentoring, or other work.
- Statement of teaching philosophy and goals.
- Course materials, such as representative course syllabi, samples of course handouts and tests.
- Self-evaluation statement.
- Description of course development or teaching improvement efforts.
- Other evidence on teaching excellence, such as videotape of classroom teaching, copies of papers or presentations on teaching topics and records of teaching awards and honors.
- Evaluation evidence from other perspectives, such as summaries of student evaluation of teaching, reports of peers observers, comments of others who have reviewed course materials or know about the instructor’s teaching contributions to the department or field.
- Samples of student work, preferably graded.
Teaching portfolios can either be a collection of physical materials, a digital document collating multiple items, or an online website with text commentary and multimedia. Despite formats,5 on what to include in teaching portfolios, so that deliverables from different instructors are comparable and can be evaluated under specified standards (Seldin et al., 2010). This consistency in self-perspective teaching evaluation also contributes to a more structured teaching evaluation overall.
Reviewing Teaching Portfolios
Similar to other perspectives of teaching, teaching portfolios from the self-perspective can be used for both formative and summative evaluation. When reviewing instructors’ teaching portfolio, it’s important to adopt procedures that align with the purpose of the evaluation.
Formative evaluation is usually intended for teaching improvement. With this goal in mind, peer reviewers will provide feedback on both the content and process dimensions of teaching portfolios, such as whether the portfolio contains the right type and amount of information, tells a clear and connected story of the instructors’ teaching, and provides multiple sources of evidence (Chism, 2007). Ideally the feedback process happens during personal conversations, but if in-person meetings are not feasible, written feedback based on clear criteria and prompt questions are also effective.
For summative evaluation that involves personnel decision making, the peer reviewer is supposed to make a judgment on the overall teaching quality shown in the portfolio. In this case, reliability in rating is particularly important for summative evaluation. The school or department should establish clear and systematic procedures for the entire process, including directions for instructors to prepare teaching portfolios, articulated criteria and standards, and protocols for the review process. The resulting report can be either a written narrative or a completed rating form (Chism, 2007).
Teaching Portfolio Resources
- Teaching Portfolio Examples
- Example Teaching Portfolio – This digital document from University of Nevada at Las Vegas is a comprehensive collection of diverse materials.
- Tricia Hermes Teaching Portfolio – This website curates the teaching portfolio in multiple pages and also contains course material examples.
- Michael A. Freeman’s Teaching Portfolio – This page is from a graduate student with a focus on narratives of teaching experiences.
- Portfolio workshops – Duke’s Graduate School usually offers one workshop each semester. Future workshops can be found on this event calendar page.
- Portfolio Rubric – this rubric from Duke Certificate in College Teaching (CCT) is used to evaluate graduate students’ teaching portfolio. It focused on the content and process dimensions and would be helpful for formative evaluation on teaching portfolios.
- Review of Portfolios Intended for Ongoing Summative Purposes (Narrative Version) (Chism, 2007) – a list of open-ended questions guide reviewers to write narrative that can help improve the evaluation’s reliability.
- Review of Portfolios Intended for Ongoing Summative Purposes (Rating Form Version) (Chism, 2007) – a guide on how to develop a rating form for the summative evaluation with some example metrics.
Adams, S., Bekker, S., Fan, Y., Gordon, T., Shepherd, L. J., Slavich, E., & Waters, D. (2022). Gender Bias in Student Evaluations of Teaching: ‘Punish[ing] Those Who Fail to Do Their Gender Right’. Higher Education, 83, 787-807. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-021-00704-9
Chism, N. V. N. (2007). Peer Review of Teaching: A Sourcebook: Bolton, Massachusetts.
Fan, Y., Shepherd, L. J., Slavich, E., Waters, D., Stone, M., Abel, R., & Johnston, E. L. (2019). Gender and cultural bias in student evaluations: Why representation matters. PloS one, 14(2), e0209749. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0209749
Krishnan, S., Gehrtz, J., Lemons, P. P., Dolan, E. L., Brickman, P., & Andrews, T. C. (2022). Guides to Advance Teaching Evaluation (GATEs): A resource for STEM departments planning robust and equitable evaluation practices. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 21(3), ar42. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.21-08-0198
Seldin, P., Miller, J. E., & Seldin, C. A. (2010). The teaching portfolio: A practical guide to improved performance and promotion/tenure decisions. John Wiley & Sons .
Tompkins, E. K. (2009). A Reflective Teaching Journal: An Instructional Improvement Tool for Academic Librarians. College & Undergraduate Libraries 16.4: 221-38.https://academicworks.cuny.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1019&context=kb_pubs.