Teaching Observations

Teaching observations, also known as peer reviews, are valuable for evaluating and improving teaching practices. There are two types of observations: 

  1. Formative observations focus on the instructor’s teaching strategies, classroom management, student engagement, and overall effectiveness. They are intended for instructor improvement. 
  2. Summative observations are designed to assess the instructor’s overall performance against specific criteria. Summative observations are used for the purpose of review and promotion. 

We assist with formative observations either conducted by our staff or by helping connect with faculty peer reviewers. The structure of the observations depends on the instructor’s goals. 

Summative observations are not conducted by the CTL. Departments and Faculties define the timing, structure, and format of summative observations. We help by providing resources and training for instructors to conduct effective peer reviews. 

Integrative Evaluation of Teaching

Peer review is one of the three components of integrative evaluation of teaching that combines multiple sources of evidence include student feedback and self-reflection. Integrative evaluation aims to provide a comprehensive and holistic view of a teacher’s performance, helping to identify strengths and areas for improvement. By integrating diverse perspectives and data sources, this approach promotes a more thorough and balanced assessment of teaching effectiveness. Peer review provides insights on many aspects of teaching practice that are either not visible to students or students are not able to meaningfully assess them (for example, course design, curriculum innovation, instructor expertise with subject matter, and appropriate rigour of student assessment). 

The UBC Collective Agreement Article 4.02 states: 

“Evaluation of teaching shall be based on the effectiveness rather than the popularity of the instructor, as indicated by command over subject matter, familiarity with recent developments in the field, preparedness, presentation, accessibility to students and influence on the intellectual and scholarly development of students. … When the opinions of students or of colleagues are sought, this shall be done through formal procedures.” 

A. Goals of Formative Peer Review:

  • To improve student learning
  • To increase instructor effectiveness
  • Data collection for Teaching Dossier
  • To explore/discuss teaching and learning with others


B. Formative Peer Review Process Suggestions:

  1. The instructor should identify areas of concern or areas for development
    (for example: classroom performance, course design, course materials)
  2. The instructor should choose one or two colleagues to observe his/her lessons
  3. The instructor should meet prior to the lesson (pre-conference) to discuss the context of the lesson, targets for observation and data collection methods.
  4. The instructor should consider how and when they will let the students know why a colleague will be observing the class. The students should be informed that the colleague is observing the instructor and not the students. (For example: “I have invited a colleague in to observe my teaching, they will just be sitting in the back of the room for the class and not participating in the lesson.”)
  5. The observer(s) should not participate in the lesson.
  6. The instructor and observer(s) should meet immediately after the lesson (post-conference) to share observations and reflections. If the instructor wishes for a written summary to be used for their dossier, then the observer(s) should prepare that.
  7. This process may be repeated if the instructor finds it helpful.


C. Other Available Resources for Teaching Improvement:

  • Collecting midpoint feedback from students.
  • Audio or video recording of lessons for review and reflection.
  • Participating in an Instructional Skills Seminar
  • Reading current teaching and learning research.
  • Participating in the Open Classroom program or Teaching Squares
  • Reviewing course materials with a colleague.
  • Self-reflection and journaling.

Formative Peer Review may also be a process that is completed on a rotational basis within a department. The purpose of this process would be to provide faculty with assistance, guidance and mentoring in developing their teaching skills and improve the quality of instruction within that department. If this is the case, then the choice of observers should be by agreement between the instructor and the Head. Also, more formalized and consistent criteria should be used to ensure fairness. The results may be for the sole ownership of the instructor or kept on file with the department.


A. Goals of Summative Peer Review:

  • To assess a faculty member’s abilities as an instructor in order to maintain institutional standards.
  • To assess a faculty member’s abilities as an instructor for the purpose of promotion.
  • To diversify the course evaluation process beyond the student evaluation questionnaire.


B. Summative Peer Review Process Suggestions:

  1. The Head and the Instructor will agree on the observers. In some cases, a department may wish to identify 2 Peer Reviewers for an academic term or year and this would count as faculty service.
  2. Ideally, 2 reviewers would review 2 lessons, using the pre-conference, observation and post conference cycle that is indicated  in the formative process.
    *Note: Most reviewers observe an upper and a lower level class, however it may be more useful to see the same class twice. Also, if the instructor has been using the formative process or has been reviewed recently, a department may decide to only require one current observation.
  3. Reviewers should use a set of criteria or template that has been previously shared with the instructor.
  4. During the post-conference, information will be shared on the data gathered and the instructor will be given time to reflect and add any additional analysis.
  5. The reviewers will submit their reports to the instructor and the Head..


C. Potential Criteria for Peer Review Observation:


  • of the course
  • of an individual class
  • use of space, comfort, learning environment

Learning Goals/Outcomes:

  • appropriate for course, students
  • acceptable academic rigor
  • communicated clear, high expectations

Communication & Interaction:

  • with students
  • rapport, respect
  • questioning and responding
  • demonstrates enthusiasm
  • responsive to student questions and suggestions


  • quality of materials – currency, relevancy, appropriate level
  • volume of material

Indicators of Student Involvement and Engagement:

  • attendance, participation, note-taking, inappropriate behavior

Teaching Strategies:

  • matches content and objectives
  • variety
  • effective delivery
  • opportunity for active learning
  • promotion of critical thinking


  • fair and appropriate cognitive challenge
  • matches learning objectives
  • frequent feedback

Open Stem:

  • Describe aspects of the class that were particularly effective/ineffective.

Primary sources of bias/issues:

  1. disagreement about what constitutes good teaching
  2. interpersonal relationships between observer and instructor
  3. reputation of instructor being observed
  4. disagreement about what to observe
  5. lack of training of observers


Reliability can be increased by:

  1. Training the observers:
    • what criteria to use
    • how to apply them
    • observational skills
    • record-keeping
    • how to provide constructive criticism
  2. Base conclusions on more than one observation by more than one observer.
  3. Process should be based on consensus about what constitutes good teaching in the discipline with a focus on shared criteria for teaching effectiveness.
  4. The process should be consistent for all instructors and observers.
  5. The rules of the game should be known to all (instructors, observers, reviewers or personnel committee, department administrator).
  6. Instructor should have input into the process at several stages – selection of observers, selection of class to be observed, interpretation of the classroom experience after the observation, input into the written report.
  7. A validated observation instrument should be used.