Faculty Peer Observation and Feedback

Teaching is a complex activity

Teaching is a complex activity, so peer observation and feedback processes must accommodate this complexity to be of greatest service to those who participate. For this reason, we do not recommend that faculty engage in peer observation and feedback with a one-size-fits-all “checklist” about what good teaching looks like. Instead, we recommend framing the experience as a formative, collegial dialogue, tailored to the contours of the discipline and the expressed desires of the teacher being observed.

Important Considerations

1.  Purpose: Formative or Summative?

  • Formative feedback is intended to give the observed teacher constructive feedback about how to evolve their teaching in various ways. This information is responsive but not evaluative, and is put to use by the teacher in future teaching experiences.
  • Summative feedback is intended to evaluate the effectiveness of one’s teaching practice to meet various administrative requirements.

Because the consequences are very different for formative and summative feedback, it is crucial that the intention be made clear at the outset of an observation and feedback experience. CATLR is available to consult with departments and programs on developing formative feedback approaches.

2. Signature Pedagogies and Departmental Culture

Signature pedagogies (Schulman, 2005) are practices that vary across disciplines and embody not only surface features like specific instructional acts, but also deep and implicit structures that communicate the theory of the discipline, how to think like one of its members, and its cultural attitudes. How conflicting knowledge claims are evaluated and addressed will vary widely between the physics lab, the law classroom, and the medical student being led on daily hospital rounds by a resident.

3.  What Is Known About How Learning Works

While disciplinary and departmental context matters greatly, there are also research-based principles that describe the learning process across contexts (Ambrose, et al., 2010). These seven principles can form effective “points of entry” into the observation and feedback process.

  • Prior knowledge – What students know coming into the classroom can help or hinder their learning.
  • Knowledge organization – How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know.
  • Motivation – Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn.
  • Mastery – To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned.
  • Practice and feedback – Goal-directed practice with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning.
  • Student development and class climate – Students’ current level of development interacts with social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.
  • Self-directed learning – To become self-directed learners, students must learn to assess the demands of a task, evaluate their own knowledge and skills, plan their approach, monitor their progress, and adjust their strategies as needed.

Recommended Process

1.  Individual Process

We recommend the process of faculty peer observation consist of four steps:

  • Initial conversation between the observer and the observed.
  • The observation itself as an informal data collection and distillation process.
  • Follow-up conversation in which the observer shares the observations and collaborates with the observed teacher in any kind of brainstorming or troubleshooting that the observations invite.
  • Reflective summary written by the observed instructor, integrating what was learned from the process and how this will influence future teaching.

View some suggested prompts for each of these experiences, read Adapting the Faculty Review Process to Your Context.

2.  Departmental Process

Because “good teaching” is a complex phenomenon and varies from context to context, we recommend the departmental process of adopting a peer observation and feedback system be collaborative and iterative. Specifically, we recommend that a small group of department members design the first set of prompt documents to support the four-step process described above. Then they can pilot that design with one another and improve it in whatever way the pilot observees’ experience suggests.

Having done this, this smaller pilot group then offers the prompts to be used in the process by another collection of faculty in the department, who also have the opportunity to make suggestions for how the prompts and process might be improved. Then another collection of participants go through the same experience and so on in a widening circle of participation, until the prompt forms represent a broad enough set of departmental input that they can be considered for widespread adoption by policy.

Explore Suggestions for Adapting the Faculty Review Process to Your Context

View more resources and ideas for Adapting the Faculty Review Process to Your Context.



Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C., Norman, M.K. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart TeachingSan Franciscio: Jossey-Bass.

Shulman, L.S. (2005). Signature pedagogies in the professionsDaedalus, 134(3), 52-59.