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Pieces of Eight

Taggart Recommends Peer Observation Training

In his role as chair of the faculty, Mark Taggart (Music) shares his perspective on peer classroom observation.

By Mark Taggart

On Dec. 7, 1993, our Faculty Senate passed Resolution 93-44 outlining direct, peer classroom observation of teaching for non-tenured, probationary term faculty. This resolution established procedures and an instrument to be used to assess and improve teaching.

The procedures require that all peer observers be trained to evaluate teaching through special sessions. Currently, these sessions are offered in the Center for Faculty Development. The established procedures state that individual academic units can modify the Faculty Senate procedures and/or evaluation instrument, provided that these are approved by the appropriate vice chancellor. For example: the School of Music had to modify the evaluation instrument to include not only classroom observation, but also studio teaching and ensemble rehearsing as well.

The established procedures and instrument also mandate that the Chancellor appoint a committee to perform a regular validation study on peer review instruments and procedures. The overall purpose of these peer review procedures is to assess and improve teaching. They are not to be used to punish or threaten non-tenured, probationary term faculty.

The Faculty Senate approved procedures and instrument require two observers for each session: one who is selected by the faculty member’s department chair and/or personnel committee, and one who is selected by that particular faculty member.

The minimum observation cycle is two observations with feedback during the professor’s first year, and two observations with feedback during the faculty member’s fourth year. The professor’s unit may decide that to use one observer per class session observation. If that is the case, then the total number of observations increases to eight over that faculty member’s probationary period.

At this point, I would like to recommend that all interested faculty register for the peer observation training sessions offered through the Center for Faculty Development. Information can be found at

The more faculty in your unit who are qualified as peer observers, whether using the Faculty Senate instrument or one designed specifically for your academic unit, the easier it will be for the tenure-track faculty to complete their observation cycle during their probationary period.

As a trained peer observer, I have learned that two very important components of the peer review process come in conferences with the professor prior to the observation and following the observation. During the pre-observation conference, the professor provides the reviewers with copies of handouts, a list of materials that will be used during that class period as well as a current course syllabus. In these sessions, I go over the peer review instrument with the faculty member, and ask questions regarding the specific goals for that class period. I have learned that, the better prepared I am for peer observation, the more effective I can be in fulfilling that task.

The post-observation conference is also important. I try to schedule it as soon as possible after the class, where I will go over the pre-observation goals with the faculty member, and ask him if he felt that those goals were met. I will also discuss strengths, any needs for improvement, and search for strategies to improve. I mention what I regarded as successful strategies that were unique to that faculty member, for example, if that faculty member was successful in engaging his or her students in a special “teaching moment.”

Over the years, I have enjoyed the experiences I have had as a trained peer classroom observer. I have learned to recognize and appreciate effective teaching. I have also employed new techniques learned from my colleagues when I have observed their classes.

Please feel free to contact the Center for Faculty Development for additional information on this and other ways to enhance the teaching experience.

This page originally appeared in the Oct. 6, 2006 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at