Peer evaluation

Assessments from peers groups, both internal and external to the university, about the candidate’s impact in teaching and learning

Assessments from peers groups, both internal and external to the university, about the candidate’s impact in teaching and learning

Peer evaluation is the primary means by which research achievement is evaluated during academic promotion, based on evidence – such as journal articles and research grant income – that has already been subject to critical external review. Peer review plays a similarly important role in the evaluation of teaching achievement; the key difference is that the assessment often takes place as part of rather than prior to the promotion process. Peer assessments typically relate to one of three aspects of a candidate’s teaching achievement, as outlined below.
  • impact on teaching and learning within the institution
  • impact and influence beyond their institution, including to pedagogical knowledge
  • esteem and recognition, through indicators such as teaching awards
Further detail on each aspect of peer assessment is provided below
Impact on teaching and learning within the candidate’s institution
Peer assessments can be used to offer evidence of a candidate’s impact on teaching and learning within their institution.
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  • Peer observation of teaching: a small but increasing number of universities across the world are incorporating mandatory peer review of teaching into the academic promotion process. Resources available to inform and support peer review of teaching during the promotion process include a study, commissioned by the Australian Office for Learning and Teaching, which offers protocol documents that can be adapted to suit institutional contexts and priorities.
  • ‘Trial lectures’: in a number of countries, for example Finland and Sweden, candidates seeking promotion to selected levels are often required to deliver a ‘trial lecture’. Although the content of these ‘lectures’ is typically focused on a candidate’s research interests, formal and informal reviews are often solicited from department staff and students in relation to their communication skills and delivery style
  • Assessments and letters of reference: Assessments or letters of reference can be requested from a wide range of individuals, including students, alumni, teaching mentors, teaching mentees, course leaders, industry partners, external course collaborators and departmental/institutional leaders. These assessments can provide significant insight into the approach, impact and range of influence of the candidate relating to activities within the ‘classroom’, outside the curriculum and across the university’s teaching and learning environment. Where possible, it is important that such letters offer concrete examples to demonstrate the candidate’s quality and impact in teaching and learning.
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Case study
Dr Jonathan Adler, Olin College of Engineering, US
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In his 2015 promotion case to Associate Professor at Olin College of Engineering (US), Dr Jonathan Adler included a letter from a former student who had transferred out of the university to complete his studies elsewhere.  The letter described the significance of the counseling role Dr Adler played in supporting the student’s reappraisal of his interests, motivations and career ambitions.

The process of reappraisal led to the student deciding to leave and pursue a course of study at a university that, unlike Olin College, was not engineering-focused.  Dr Adler explained, “I imagine it is quite unusual to include students who transfer out of one’s university in one’s promotion materials, as these students are so often seen as failures of the institution, given the importance of student retention.  But at Olin, one of the key domains in which faculty are assessed is ‘developing students.’  I saw this as a clear example of my work to help a student develop to his full potential, even though it involved leaving Olin to do so.  The student transferred to a highly-selective liberal arts college and is now working on a PhD at Harvard, so I look back on our advising sessions over the course of his one year at Olin as a success and wanted to include this perspective in my promotion dossier”.
Impact and influence beyond the candidate’s institution
A wide range of peer-reviewed evidence can be used to demonstrate impact beyond the candidate’s institution, in both pedagogical knowledge and educational practice.
  • peer-reviewed pedagogical journal and conference papers
  • pedagogical research grants (in national contexts where such funding is available)
  • funds raised towards educational activities, projects or spaces
  • external reviews, case studies and/or unstructured feedback from institutional visitors, demonstrating the recognition and influence of the candidate’s educational ideas and/or practices
  • widely-used text books and e-learning materials
  • letters of reference from peer institutions, professional bodies, leaders of relevant teaching and learning communities, research partners and external collaborators in courses, programmes or teaching and learning projects
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Indicators of esteem and recognition
Other indicators of esteem and recognition can offer important evidence of the candidate’s teaching achievement both within and beyond their institution.
  • prizes/awards in teaching and learning at institutional or national level
  • fellowships and membership of teaching and learning academics
  • press coverage of the candidate’s educational ideas or activities
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Case study
Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, University of Sheffield, UK
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In 2012, Dr Elena Rodriguez-Falcon was promoted to full professorship at the University of Sheffield on the basis of contributions to teaching and learning, particularly in the field of enterprise education. Unusually for a UK research-led institution, the promotion case focused primarily on impact and leadership in educational practice, rather than pedagogical scholarship.

Dr Rodriguez-Falcon describes her work as “scholarship in action: taking the [pedagogical] knowledge and putting it in practice in the classroom… the outputs for scholarship are grants and publications, but the way you measure ‘scholarship in practice’ is through impact on the culture of the institution”. Her promotion case indicated significant contribution to the institutional environment for teaching and learning through descriptions of her professional activities, such as leading significant curricular innovations/reforms in enterprise engineering, driving development of the university’s enterprise strategy and co-authoring the university’s Inclusive Teaching and Learning Handbook. The case also demonstrated broader educational influence within and beyond her institution through a diverse range of peer assessments:
  • Institutional impact and leadership: a wide range of testimonials from across divisions, departments and hierarchy at Dr Rodriguez-Falcon’s institution were used to demonstrate the breadth of her activities and their perceived impact on the university’s educational culture and capacity
  • Impact and influence beyond the institution: (i) peer-reviewed pedagogical publications and research grants, (ii) national and international case studies of good practice that featured Dr Rodriguez-Falcon’s curricular innovations, and (iii) a variety of testimonials from her professional community outside her institution, including visitors to the university who had subsequently adopted her educational ideas, “attesting to the fact that they thought that what I had done was valuable enough to be replicated at other universities”;
  • Indicators of esteem and recognition: (i) national awards, prizes and fellowships, and (ii) evidence of national media impacts, including relevant press releases and articles. In reference to the considerable national press attention generated by her educational innovations, Dr Rodriguez-Falcon noted, “this must demonstrate something of your standing in the profession. I realised that this was also evidence that I had to include