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

Introduction

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., 2009; Chism, 2007a). Since it is almost universally accepted that multiple sources of data strengthen faculty evaluation (Arreola, 2007; Benton & Cashin, 2012), considering data from peer reviews together with information from student evaluations is deemed preferable to us- ing data from a single source. Summative peer reviews can also enhance the evaluation process by virtue of the fact that, as compared to students, peers are more qualified to evaluate certain aspects of teaching, such as course goals and content, instructional ma- terials and methods, appropriateness of assessment practices, and professional/ethical behaviour (Chism, 2007a; Courneya, Pratt, & Collins, 2008).

Though summative peer reviews may strengthen the validity of the evaluation pro- cess, they do not typically contribute to an instructor's professional growth in teaching (Byrne, Brown, & Challen, 2010; Kell & Annetts, 2009; Peel, 2005). In this regard, they have been unfavourably compared to formative peer reviews, a process that is praised for enhancing teaching and for promoting collegiality (Atkinson & Bolt, 2010; Bell & Cooper, 2013). In a typical formative peer review, an instructor voluntarily initiates a review with a colleague of his choice and also determines the objectives of that review (e.g., the instruc- tor may want ideas on how to augment classroom participation or on how to strengthen his assessment techniques). The reviewer shares her observations and reflections with the person who initiated the request, and when done well, formative peer review fosters self-reflection and discussion of teaching, and generates critical insights into teaching for both parties (Byrne et al., 2010; Kell & Annetts, 2009; Shortland, 2010). In a formative review, information is kept confidential between the reviewer and instructor (unless the instructor chooses to share it).

Scholars of peer review have put forth at least four reasons why summative peer re- views offer few benefits in terms of professional growth in teaching. First, they point out that meaningful learning and reflective practice occur most often when academics engage in pedagogical practice for its own sake, and when it is not based on external demand (At- kinson & Bolt, 2010; Byrne et al., 2010). Summative reviews, which are high-stakes evalu- ations imposed upon faculty members, fall into this latter category and have been linked to the accountability movement in higher education, whereby faculty are increasingly required to measure and quantify their activities in the guise of improving quality and efficiency (Shanahan, 2009). Second, previous research also suggests that in research- intensive universities where faculty members are rewarded for their research productiv- ity above their teaching (Chalmers, 2011), many professors think summative peer review is a "time sink" (Chism, 2007b, p. …

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