Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Don't Tell It like It Is: Preserving Collegiality in the Summative Peer Review of Teaching

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Don't Tell It like It Is: Preserving Collegiality in the Summative Peer Review of Teaching

Article excerpt


While much literature has considered feedback and professional growth in formative peer reviews of teaching, there has been little empirical research conducted on these issues in the context of summative peer reviews. This article explores faculty members' perceptions of feedback practices in the summative peer review of teaching and reports on their understandings of why constructive feedback is typically non-existent or unspecific in summative reviews. Drawing from interview data with 30 tenure-track professors in a research-intensive Canadian university, the findings indicated that reviewers rarely gave feedback to the candidates, and when they did, comments were typically vague and/or focused on the positive. Feedback, therefore, did not contribute to professional growth in teaching. Faculty members suggested that feedback was limited because of the following: the high-stakes nature of tenure, the demands for research productivity, lack of pedagogical expertise among academics, non-existent criteria for evaluating teaching, and the artificiality of peer reviews. In this article I argue that when it comes to summative reviews, elements of academic culture, especially the value placed on collegiality, shape feedback practices in important ways.


Si de nombreux écrits ont été consacrés aux évaluations et au perfectionnement professionnel des professeurs dans les rapports formatifs des pairs, peu de recherches empiriques portent sur ces questions dans leurs évaluations sommatives. Cet article explore les perceptions des professeurs d'université quant aux pratiques d'évaluation adoptées dans les évaluations sommatives de l'enseignement par les pairs, et expose leur compréhension des raisons expliquant l'absence d'évaluations constructives, ou leur imprécision, dans ces mêmes évaluations sommatives. À partir de 30 entrevues avec des professeurs occupant un poste menant à la permanence dans une université canadienne axée sur la recherche, les résultats ont indiqué que les examinateurs donnaient rarement de commentaires aux candidats et que, quand ils le faisaient, ces commentaires étaient généralement vagues ou ne soulignaient que les aspects positifs. En conséquence, ces rapports n'ont pas contribué au progrès professionnel du travail de l'enseignant. Des professeurs ont avancé les raisons suivantes pour expliquer les limites de la rétroaction : l'importance de l'enjeu de la permanence et des publications, le manque de compétence pédagogique chez les universitaires, l'absence de critères d'évaluation de l'enseignement et le caractère artificiel des évaluations par les pairs. Dans le présent article, je soutiens que, lorsqu'il s'agit d'évaluations sommatives, des traits propres à la culture universitaire, en particulier la valeur accordée à la collégialité, influencent grandement les pratiques d'évaluation par les pairs.


Within Canadian universities, summative peer reviews of teaching are increasingly being used to inform personnel decisions such as tenure, promotion, and reappointment (Gravestock, 2011; Ackerman, Gross, & Vigneron, 2009). The peer review process often consists of a tenured professor (or more than one) who conducts at least one classroom observation of teaching of a departmental peer. Summative reviews may also include an assessment of a candidate's teaching philosophy statement, course materials, or teaching portfolio. Based on what they observe and read, the reviewers write a report that they submit to the chair of the peer review committee and/or the department head. Tenured departmental colleagues with input into decisions about tenure, promotion, and reap- pointment have access to information about the peer review outcomes and use it to rank or compare the candidate. In this way, information from summative reviews is open to public inspection (Chism, 2007a).

The increased use of peer reviews has, in large part, come about in response to criti- cisms that student evaluations of teaching are not a reliable or valid means of measuring an instructor's effectiveness at facilitating student learning (Ackerman et al. …

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