March Director's Message

Like teaching itself, conducting peer reviews of colleagues’ classes is an activity that has continued throughout the pandemic but changed dramatically for many of us — both those of us being reviewed and those doing the reviewing. Many of us feel unprepared for (even uneasy about) the experience.

We in the Drake Institute have fielded numerous requests from department chairs, undergraduate studies chairs, and assistant deans (among others) over the past few weeks seeking guidance on and best practices for peer evaluation of online teaching. Departments are seeking programming support and individual faculty are reaching out for resources and programming — all of which prompted me to compose this message, share a few initial resources, and encourage you to reach out to the institute for consultations (both individual and departmental) on conducting peer evaluation of online teaching.

Prior to spring 2020, peer evaluation of teaching for me typically meant stepping into Carmen course shells, reviewing colleagues’ course syllabi and assignments, chatting face-to-face prior to and following observations, sitting in on those in-person class sessions, and then composing reports submitted to my department.

For the past year now, that process has been upended as many of my colleagues in English and I have moved to teaching online. We have to arrange for synchronous “observation” or asynchronous access to recordings of class sessions and conduct all pre- and post-observation chats via phone, Skype, or Zoom.

We manage, of course, but all of these circumstances distance us from one another and create new challenges for teachers and observers: How do we create the spaces for (and assess) student engagement in online classrooms? How do we create “instructor presence” and how does a reviewer assess “presence” in an asynchronous space? How do we build the structures that facilitate a sense of “community” in a classroom — and how do we judge whether “community” is achieved?

Of course, these questions are not new to our colleagues and staff who regularly teach in online and hybrid environments — and the Office of Distance Education and eLearning (ODEE) regularly offers programming to support us. (In fact, ODEE is offering the next “Planning for Your Online Course” workshop from 2–3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 23.) But for many of us, these questions are complicated by the remote nature (both literal and figurative) of teaching and learning in online environments.

In addition to the challenges of being remote from one another and the act of teaching, we face other challenges that adhere to evaluating teaching in ways much more exigent than in the past: How do we undertake evaluating our colleagues’ teaching compassionately? How do we recognize, acknowledge, and account for what we know to be factors impacting teaching and teachers: increased time devoted to course development, design, and implementation; the challenge of finding, learning, and deploying unfamiliar technologies; attending to and addressing the affective impact of moving online — for both students and instructors? Awareness of these challenges is, of course, just a first step toward compassionate review.

If you’re eager to begin reading about this work, I’d point you to the following resources offered through the Teaching and Learning Resource Center, particularly the following pages:

Among resources from outside of Ohio State, I would recommend:

For additional assistance on conducting peer evaluation of online teaching, please contact the Drake Institute at drakeinstitute@osu.edu to schedule individual or departmental consultations. We’re eager to work with you.