Monday, September 09, 2013

Peer review in teaching


“OK, your video clip was crap,” – this is more or less a direct quote from the Fall retreat by one of our programs (educational management). Here is another interesting example of peer review methodology that my new colleagues invented years ago. They basically start the year with a retreat, where faculty present courses they developed to each other. The academic discourse in Russia is a lot pushier than in the US (although people don’t seem to be hurt; they all know each other). So it looks more like a defense than like a presentation. But ignoring the tone, it is just such a simple and useful exercise.

For some time now, I wondered how to apply the discipline of peer review to the teaching process. This is why I’ve put together Syllabus. We did? of course do something like that in Colorado and Rhode Island, but only when a new program was developed, or in a context of a major revision. We call it curriculum sequencing, or curriculum alignment.

But in general, higher ed courses are born alone and die alone; rarely do faculty share them with each other. And we lack opportunity to get peer affirmation about the wonderful job we all do. And it is so important - to get some recognition, praise from our peers. The other side of the same equation – there is very little pressure, no shame in doing a poor job designing courses, because no one is normally looking. And most importantly – those two very bright people that created the video clip thought it was just great; most of the audience disliked it. So they avoided making a public mistake in front of the students, by making it in front of their peers. It is safer that way.

I am not sure how to institutionalize something like that. Only one or two of our six programs do anything like this retreat. It does cost time and money, and certain level of comfort with each other and some level of trust. But I don’t see any other way, really. All university faculty should find a way of intense, honest conversations about how we teach, or MOOC’s will run us out of existence. This is really the time to focus on teaching.

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