Sailing through Peer Review: Five lessons learnt at the coalface

Dr Ehsan Gharaie, Lecturer, School of Property, Construction and Project Management (PCPM)
&
Dallas Wingrove, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Having a peer reviewer review your teaching is for many staff an unfamiliar risk taking experience that can be anxiety provoking. Ehsan Gharaie, a lecturer in the school of PCPM at RMIT University, recently underwent the process of peer review. As Ehsan embarked upon this journey he approached me as Senior Advisor L & T to support him through the process which included observing Ehsan’s teaching and providing feedback in response to the Peer Review criteria. What unfolded was highly useful professional learning for us both. In this post we share our experience of peer review and the lessons learnt.

Similar to many Australian and international universities, RMIT has now implemented a process of peer review of teaching. At RMIT, peer review is now mandated for teaching staff who seek an individual teaching award, and in 2015 is also to be introduced for staff seeking academic promotion.

In tertiary education, beyond teaching practice such as team teaching, and Peer Partnerships programs, there are limited opportunities for staff to share their practice with a peer, and receive feedback. The often ‘siloed’ nature of teaching presents many challenges for educators and opening your class room up to someone else for the purpose of peer review can be extremely daunting.

So what does this process mean for teachers? And how can they best prepare to have a positive experience of peer review?

Here are five lessons learnt through our experience of the peer review process:

  1. Understand and engage in the process

Before getting involved in the process it is vital that you understand the peer review process and its purpose. Attend your university’s workshops and information sessions. Familiarise yourself with your university’s guidelines and importantly engage with the teaching dimensions/criteria against which you will be reviewed. Remember, these dimensions/criteria align with recognised principles of good teaching practice. Reflect on how these criteria relate to your own practice and list and discuss with a peer examples which provide evidence of how you contribute to and demonstrate these dimensions in your practice. Contact staff implementing the Peer Review process, ask them questions and share any concerns you may have. At RMIT the process of Peer Review is implemented through the university’s Learning and Teaching Unit Stills of Ehsan Teachingwhich runs induction/information workshops, and provides advice for participants.

  1. Seek support and advice

There are many processes in academia that are competitive, but remember, this is NOT one of them. Your teaching practice will be reviewed against established dimensions/criteria. You are not competing with your peers so if you feel confident enough, share your experiences along the way, and seek and provide support to your peers. Do not hold back. Talk to people who can support you. Your colleagues, peers, program manager, and your university’s Learning and Teaching Advisors/Academic Developers can help you through the process. You may need them to simply listen to you to your concerns and anxieties. Having a colleague to talk to can really help ease your anxiety; this is not a journey that you have to go through alone.

  1. Engage with your peer reviewers

Whilst the formal peer review takes place in your class, there is also important activity which occurs prior to and following the peer review. Similar to other universities, at RMIT it is mandatory to meet with your peer reviewers at least once prior to the review. Remember, any meetings and discussions with your peer reviewers help to build the context for your review. Peer reviewers are experienced educators and learning and teaching experts and your dialogue with them will help to ease your concerns and/or fears. In doing so, demonstrate your knowledge and command of the discipline field and discuss your teaching approach. Initiate further contact with your peer reviewers as needed including if you have questions or require further clarification and advice. Importantly, provide the context for your teaching prior to the review. Identify: the aim of your session, how your class relates to the course and the wider program, the expectations of your students, the class dynamic, the nature of your particular cohort, your teaching and learning goals for the particular session, and provide any other information that you believe would assist your reviewers to understand your teaching and the class to be reviewed.

  1. Seek feedback on your teaching prior to your peer review:

Have the confidence to ask one of your peers or your Learning and Teaching Advisor to observe your teaching practice and provide confidential feedback. Provide the peer review dimensions/criteria and seek feedback about your teaching. It will be very helpful to see your teaching through someone else’s eyes. You also get used to having someone other than your students sitting in your class. In this way, you can dip your toe in the water, and ease yourself more gently into the process of observation, review and feedback.

Access other programs which support peer feedback. Participate in a Peer Partnerships program for example where you partner with another teacher to observe each other’s practice and provide feedback to support continuous improvement. At RMIT you can take up the opportunity to participate in RMIT Peer Partnerships. RMIT Peer Partnerships is a voluntary, confidential program involving peer observation of teaching. RMIT Peer Partnerships facilitates highly useful relevant professional development learning and can assist you to become more comfortable and at ease with sharing your teaching practice, and support critical reflection on practice through giving and receiving feedback.

  1. Believe in yourself: don’t panic, this is just another day in the class.

The prospect of peer review can seem very daunting for many staff. Most if not all educators experience some level of discomfort when having their teaching reviewed or evaluated, these are normal human reactions. However, if you have done your preparation, you understand the process, and you seek feedback beforehand, you will be well placed to feel more comfortable about the process. You just need to resist the nerves in the first five minutes of the class and as soon as you relax you will forget the reviewers are even sitting there. Remember, reviewers are experienced teachers and they can tell if you pretend. Just be yourself. After all this is just another day in the class.

The next steps…

As you contemplate whether you are ready to embark upon the Peer Review journey remember to access all supports and enlist the support of a peer AND remind yourself that the process is one which endeavours to strengthen the teaching culture of your university and to also value and recognise your good teaching practice.

Share your thoughts and questions in the comments section!
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