Peer Review of Instruction

Feedback for professional development and summative evaluation.


Peer review is the process by which an instructor’s faculty peer observes a component of his or her teaching and provides feedback for professional development and summative evaluation. The Improving the Evaluation of Teaching initiative requires that departments develop a structure for peer review that specifies who will serve as reviewers, who will be reviewed, the schedule for the review process, and the teaching components that will be reviewed. While each department should create this structure, departments have considerable leeway to create a program that serves its unique needs.


To prepare for the implementation of a peer evaluation program, your department or school should make several decisions which may be codified in a policy document.

Who will be reviewed? Your department may have Tenure Track Faculty, Non-Tenure Track Faculty, and Lecturers. Each of these groups may come with different levels of teaching experience and different schedules for rehiring and promotion. You should decide on a schedule under which each of these groups will undergo peer review.

Who will serve as reviewers? Your department will need to designate who is responsible for the peer review portion of the evaluation of teaching (e.g. is it a group of faculty members, one faculty member, or a department officer?). You will also have to decide how many peer reviewers will participate in each review. While many universities utilize just one reviewer, using two or more reviewers will provide greater inter-rater reliability and produce a more robust review process. You may decide to implement reviewer training to ensure that all reviewers understand the scope of the process and the type of feedback they are expected to provide.

What is the plan for peer review? Your department will have to decide how often an instructor is reviewed, and whether it is the same for every faculty rank (e.g. once every three years for full-time faculty, every year for lecturers, etc.). Formative evaluation is intended to help an instructor develop teaching skills. This type of peer review may be targeted toward populations in need of mentoring and support and may be conducted as often as necessary. Summative peer review evaluates instruction against a benchmark for good teaching and results in a formal letter for use in renewal, promotion, and tenure decisions. This type of review will be expected in the new teaching evaluation system, but it may only be necessary once or twice before promotion or renewal. In either case, a greater number of observations will improve the reliability of the process.

What will be reviewed? You must also decide whether the review will include observations of course materials, classroom teaching, online teaching, teaching portfolios, or all of these. Each mode of peer review has advantages and disadvantages when it comes to gaining a comprehensive understanding of the instructor’s teaching ability and the resources needed to complete the review.

Peer Review Options

Some different options for peer review are:


Peer observation and evaluation of traditional classrooms is the process in which one or more reviewers visit an instructor’s classroom to observe teaching behaviors. They then offer feedback about how a class is taught. What follows is a basic process for classroom peer evaluation which you may modify to fit the needs of your department or school.


Prior to implementing a peer evaluation process, departments/schools should hold conversations to determine what classroom instruction behaviors they expect to observe in any instructor’s classrooms. In other words, what are the teaching benchmarks? Ideally, departments/schools would implement a training session to ensure that reviewers share an understanding of strong teaching practices. While there are specific teaching challenges in each subject area, many components of quality teaching are consistent. According to a canonical article by Chickering and Gamson (1987), instructors across all disciplines tend to cultivate vibrant learning experiences using similar techniques. Excellent instructors:

  1. Encourage engagement between students and faculty
  2. Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students
  3. Use active learning techniques
  4. Give prompt feedback
  5. Emphasize time on task
  6. Communicate high expectations
  7. Respect diverse talents and ways of learning

Peer evaluation may follow Chickering and Gamson’s categories or others (for example, some procedures focus on content knowledge, use of instructional materials, class organization, presentation and delivery, interactions and participation, and assessment practices). In any system, it is often helpful to produce a standardized worksheet or rubric to record observations and serve as a foundation for a written letter.

More resources and instructions are available on the Peer Review of Classroom Instruction portion of our Improving the Evaluation of Teaching Canvas site.


Chickering, A., & Gamson, Z. (1987). Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. The Wingspread Journal. Racine, WI: Johnson Foundation.


Peer review of online courses is the process in which an evaluator observes an online class for a specified period of time and offers feedback on how the class is taught. Because the online classroom involves unique procedures and challenges, the evaluation process is somewhat different from the process of evaluating a traditional classroom. For instance, online courses have unique types of student-faculty interaction and may employ different forms of evaluation and pacing. It is important that the person who conducts the evaluation be familiar not only with the course being taught but also with online teaching so as to offer appropriate feedback.


Some considerations in developing an online course peer evaluation program are the same as those for peer review of classroom instruction. Departments/schools should decide which courses will be observed, how many reviewers will observe a particular course, and how many observations shall be conducted. Per best practice, a greater number of reviewers and observations will produce more reliable results.

Other considerations for online course peer evaluation are distinct from the evaluation of traditional classrooms. Departments/schools must develop a set of expectations for how instructors should teach these courses. On one extreme, online courses can be designed with a minimum of teacher-student interaction, functioning as self-directed learning modules. On the other end of the spectrum, courses can include video-recorded lectures and announcements, and interactive components that elicit student engagement. Evidence from online courses suggests teacher engagement is an important component to success, and departments at Rutgers should consider adopting standards that require some degree of interaction.

More resources and examples, including past workshops, are available on the Peer Review of Online Instruction portion of our Improving the Evaluation of Teaching Canvas site.


While peer review often involves classroom observation, other options are available. Peer review of course material as a stand-alone practice is unobtrusive, convenient, and often nearly as effective as classroom visits. It avoids sources of bias that may be associated with classroom observations. If a single class is observed, events outside of the instructor’s control such as technology malfunctions, low classroom turnout, or disruptive students could detract from the instructor’s performance. In other cases, an instructor may over-prepare and present a particularly well-organized and coherent lecture, enhancing his or her performance compared to the norm. Peer review of course materials is often a simpler method to obtain a summative peer evaluation than a peer observation of a classroom.


In peer review of course materials, one or two reviewers (peers of the reviewee) will evaluate classroom materials and produce a report for the instructor’s teaching file. Because a faculty member may have a large amount of course materials, departments may develop a process where the reviewee is asked to submit a portfolio of sample materials.

A table of example documents and more information can be found on the Peer Review of Course Material portion of our Improving the Evaluation of Teaching Canvas site.


You may also implement peer review of teaching portfolios. A teaching portfolio is a document that contains information about an instructor’s teaching responsibilities, teaching philosophy, and evidence of effective teaching. (See our teaching portfolio page for more information on how to construct a teaching portfolio.) Since portfolios will now be required for faculty going up for tenure, you may choose to conduct a peer review of the portfolio. A teaching portfolio contains material from multiple classes, allowing reviewers to access a wide variety of materials.


One or two reviewers should conduct the peer review. A typical process begins with a request for the instructor’s teaching portfolio. The reviewer may wish to review the teaching portfolio using a rubric that identifies best practices in the construction of a teaching portfolio (See Kaplan, 1998). Having reviewed the portfolio, it is good practice to meet with the instructor and discuss their observations, taking care to explain what they liked about the portfolio as well as areas for improvement. A formal letter can then be prepared for the instructor’s permanent teaching file.


Kaplan, M. (1998) “The Teaching Portfolio.” The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. University of Michigan.


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