The Peer Review of Teaching Project aims to engage faculty in documenting, assessing, and improving student learning and performance via extensive analysis and reflection on course development, instructional strategies, classroom activities, and students’ work.
Capturing the Intellectual Work of Teaching
Faculty in higher education are increasingly asked to document, assess, and make public their teaching practices. Yet even faculty who value and support excellence in teaching have articulated difficulties in capturing the intellectual work of teaching:
- How can I show the intellectual work of teaching taking place inside and outside of my classroom?
- How can I systematically investigate, analyze, and document my students’ learning?
- How can I communicate this intellectual work to campus or disciplinary conversations?
In conceptualizing how the scholarly work of teaching might be made visible, many have critiqued the longstanding mechanism for evaluating faculty teaching: the student course evaluation. Although student evaluations are useful for inquiring about what occurred during a course, other aspects related to the intellectual work of teaching are not always as visible to students. For instance, does the course have an acceptable level of academic rigor? Are objectives and topics appropriate to the course? What evidence illustrates students’ understanding of key concepts? In short, capturing the scholarly work of teaching combines inquiry into the intellectual work in a course with a careful investigation of the curricular and department goals.
Objectives and Outcomes
The Peer Review of Teaching Project is a faculty-driven approach for developing a campus climate for teaching improvement and reform. Invited faculty work in teams over the course of a year to discuss approaches for documenting and assessing student learning within particular courses. Rather than advocating any particular instructional strategy, the PRTP focuses on helping faculty document student learning occurring in their course and then reflect on whether student performance demonstrates achievement of the curricular and department goals. Specific outcomes for faculty participating in the project include:
- Reflecting upon, developing, and writing a course portfolio about one of their courses,
- Identifying common teaching and curricular issues across academic disciplines,
- Becoming skilled as a reviewer of a course portfolio (and other teaching materials),
- Discussing the challenges in teaching and addressing the needs of diverse student learners,
- Developing a common vocabulary for talking about and assessing the intellectual work of teaching,
- Being nurtured to become a leader in creating and advocating department, college, and university teaching policies.
The project promotes educational reform at three different levels: by assisting faculty in evaluating and improving their students’ learning, by building a campus community that supports and refines this inquiry into student learning, and by challenging a research university’s attitude and policies about teaching. As a result, the PRTP has helped to broaden the scope for improving student learning outcomes from individual classes to improving outcomes across programs, curricular areas, college departments, and different colleges. Key components of the project include:
- Having faculty explore what is going on in their classrooms, to analyze their course objectives, and to document and assess whether what they want to be happening is really happening. It offers a systematic and long-term approach that requires thoughtful collection and analysis of learning and teaching.
- Supporting the external review and evaluation of faculty course portfolios. External reviewers assess the portfolios based on criteria such as the intellectual content of the course, the appropriateness of teaching practices, levels of student understanding, and the portfolio author’s effectiveness in documenting his/her teaching. Having faculty outside of one’s university assess the work parallels the strategy for using external reviews of scholarly publications and research proposals.
- Engaging department teams to talk about their teaching goals and the linkages between their courses. Often times, these are the first conversations partners have ever had about their learning objectives and each other’s student performance.
- Having faculty work in teams and participate in interdisciplinary teaching conversations that are more focused than the usual sharing of teaching techniques. These conversations help faculty identify common teaching and curricular issues across academic disciplines (e.g., writing critical examinations, teaching with technology, using small groups, teaching via distance).
- Developing campus leaders by having faculty who complete the fellowship program continues in an advanced program and/or as a mentor to other fellows.
- Establishing peer review as a high-quality, evidence-based measure of teaching effectiveness that should be integrated into campus policies for promotion and tenure, merit reviews, and teaching awards.
The project began in 1994 with the University of Nebraska – Lincoln’s (UNL) participation in the Peer Review of Teaching Project initiated by the American Association for Higher Education. The following year, a FIPSE grant augmented by university funding enabled the creation of a campus program that supported faculty as they engaged in peer consultation on teaching and developed course portfolios describing and documenting their teaching. In 1999, with financial support from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Hewlet Foundation, our campus program was expanded to collaborate with four partner campuses (Indiana-Bloomington, Texas A&M, University of Michigan, and Kansas State University). In Spring 2004, the project hosted a national conference "Making Learning Visible: Peer Review and the Scholarship of Teaching" (March 26-28, 2004) in Lincoln, Nebraska.
This working conference brought together over 200 faculty members, university administrators, and faculty developers to explore the current status of peer review and to discuss how this form of peer collaboration contributes to larger conversations regarding the scholarship of teaching and learning. While each of our partner campuses has developed different models for administering and financing our individual campus efforts, we all have all held true to our goal of helping faculty document the intellectual effort that they put into their teaching.
Over the last two and a half decades, the project has continued to involve 30-40 faculty members across the NU system facilitated by PRTP alumni annually. This core group of faculty continues to advance the mission of PRTP by actively participating in the scholarship of teaching and learning at a local, national and international level.