Faculty Senate Implementation Committee: Peer Observation Proposal

Committee Members: Deb Carney, Andy Herring, Junko Munakata Marr, Dinesh Mehta, Polina Ringler, Megan Sanders, Justin Shaffer

I. Overview

 We propose implementing peer observations of teaching at Mines to cultivate a campus culture of sharing, talking about, reflecting on, and improving teaching—work that will directly support the Mines@150 goal of making Mines a leader in educating STEM students and professionals. We purposefully use the terminology of peer observation versus peer evaluation to highlight the goal of formative feedback rather than summative evaluation. When we shared this high-level goal with faculty, we received the following feedback about what parameters would need to be in place to be successful:

Formative: If we want to make this process truly formative, faculty need to feel comfortable giving and receiving honest feedback, without worrying about the repercussions of that feedback.

Everyone Participates: If we aim to support a culture of reflecting on and improving our teaching, it is important that all faculty who teach participate and be invested in the process.

Sustainable: If we want this process to scale campus-wide, it needs to be manageable in terms of the time commitment for faculty and the logistics of organizing observations and training.

Academic Affairs and Department Heads agreed about the importance of these parameters and also desired additional information from peers to supplement the student end-of-course evaluations in evaluating teaching. We propose separate processes to meet these two needs: a peer observation process to provide formative feedback and teaching evaluation letters to provide summative evaluation. We focus this document on the peer observation process (summarized below) and if there is a desire for summative evaluation of teaching then we propose that another entity takes on that task.


Next, we describe the specific components of the peer observation process in more detail.

II. The Observation process


How Observation Data Would be Collected

Department Observation Cycles

Departments would be sorted into three approximately equal groups, based on the number of full-time faculty within the department (see Table 1 for an example grouping). All tenured/tenure-track faculty, teaching faculty, and professors of practice in the department would be required to participate. Every three years, the faculty in one group of departments would participate in the peer observation process, both in the role of observer and observed instructor. As a department, faculty would complete observer training at the beginning of the spring semester. Individual faculty would then be paired up, either within or across departments, and would observe, be observed by, and debrief with their partner. The department would come together at the end of the spring semester to discuss what faculty learned through the observations. Faculty Peer Observation Fellows (see Section III) would lead the training, pair faculty, and facilitate the department-wide debriefs. Faculty must complete the process by the end of the calendar year, and the fall semester could be used for any make-up or repeat observations. The data from these observations would be used both for promotion and tenure dossiers and FDRs.

How Observation Data Would be REPORTED AND USED

Promotion and Tenure Dossiers

Faculty would be required to complete two observations between each rank and to reflect on the process as part of their dossier. Our hope is that many of these observations would be completed as part of the department-wide peer observation process. Peer Observation Fellows would be available to conduct additional observations outside of this cycle and would prioritize faculty who needed observation data the soonest for P&T. For pre-tenure faculty specifically, we recommend that one of the two observations before Associate happen before the Preliminary Tenure Review and the other happen before the dossier is submitted. For professors of practice, who do not have ranks, we recommend observations on the three-year department cycle.

We propose adding a sentence to Section 11.b of the promotion dossier that would ask faculty to reflect on their peer observation. For example, faculty could be asked to describe what feedback they received from their peer observation, what they changed or tried as a result, how that change went, and what evidence informs that judgment. We recommend that these reflections be evaluated in terms of demonstrated growth and development in teaching, reiterating the formative goal of this process. To support P&T committees in evaluating these responses for growth and development, we propose to develop a rubric or set of guidelines. While faculty would be required to include the reflection in their dossier, they could choose whether or not to include observation reports from their peer observers.

Faculty Data Reports (FDRs)

Information about peer observation could also be included in FDRs for the year a department is conducting observations. We recommend a completion/no completion requirement for peer observations: completing the peer observation process (as observer and observed) would be necessary for receiving a Meets Expectations or above for teaching. Peer Observation Fellows would track faculty completion of the process and completion status is all that would be shared on FDRs.

If department heads wish to use additional information from the peer observation process for FDRs, we recommend taking the same approach as in dossiers: asking faculty to reflect on what they learned from their peer observation and evaluating these evaluations for growth and development. The same rubric or guidelines could be used to evaluate FDR reflections.

How the Proposed Process Meets the Parameters

  • By focusing the conversation on how “we as a department” teach, it focuses the process on learning, reflection, and improvement. Having all faculty observe and be observed emphasizes learning from each other; faculty in the pilot identified serving in both roles as particularly beneficial.
  • Focusing faculty and evaluators on the reflection rather than the “score” keeps the process formative.
  • Providing faculty with opportunities for peer observations outside of the department cycle emphasizes the goal of learning and improvement over evaluation and should help peers feel comfortable giving each other feedback.
Everyone Participates
  • By asking all faculty within a department to participate, the process supports a culture around improving teaching and learning at Mines.
  • Including peer observations of teaching as part of P&T and FDRs sends the message that Mines cares about reflective teaching and provides a space for people to highlight the innovative work they are doing in their classes.
  • By involving all faculty in both roles, the total time commitment per individual is only around 6 hours for the observation semester, once every three years.
  • Building on existing department structures for faculty collaborative time simplifies the organization of trainings and debriefs.
  • Because many peer observations will likely be completed as part of the department-wide process, there will be a smaller number of off-cycle observations, which would be handled by Peer Observation Fellows.

III. Peer Observation Fellows and Peer Observation Lead

We propose creating the position of Peer Observation Fellow to support this peer observation process. Four Peer Observation Fellows would serve at a time, joining in cohorts of two and serving staggered two-year terms, beginning in a fall semester. Faculty would be expected to apply for the Peer Observation Fellow position, similar to other titled positions at Mines.

During their two-year term Peer Observation Fellows would be responsible for:

    • Completing training on how to conduct observations, lead department trainings, and facilitate department debriefs
    • Leading trainings and debriefs for 3 departments
    • Identifying faculty pairs for those 3 departments
    • Conducting off-cycle observations
    • Tracking observation completions
    • Reviewing applicants for incoming Peer Observation Fellows
    • Training incoming Peer Observation Fellows
    • Refining training and observation materials
    • Reporting on the initiative

We estimate that Peer Observation Fellows will spend about 40 hours a semester supporting this initiative (see Table 2 for a model of these responsibilities over a term, with time estimates for specific responsibilities). To recognize the importance of this work and the significant time commitment beyond typical service requirements, we propose compensating each Peer Observation Fellow $5,000 per year. Additionally, we propose reducing Peer Observation Fellows’ department service loads by 50%. To further underscore the importance of this work and the prestige of the position, new Peer Observation Fellows could be announced at the spring Faculty Awards Ceremony.

In addition to the four Peer Observation Fellows, we propose creating a Peer Observation Lead position. The person in this role would have similar responsibilities as the Peer Observation Fellows, with the addition of:

    • Serving as the spokesperson for the initiative, fielding questions, and troubleshooting
    • Coordinating the Peer Observation Fellows
    • Acting as the liaison between the Peer Observation Fellows, Academic Affairs, and departments
    • Leading the development of trainings and materials

This position would likely require about 80 hours a semester, and we propose compensating this person $10,000 a year

IV. Specific Details

What is the background of this initiative?

The Faculty Senate Task Force on the Evaluation of Effective Instruction formed in Fall 2018 and was tasked with examining how we should evaluate teaching at Mines. As part of the charge, the Task Force defined Effective Teaching at Mines and proposed four tools for assessing teaching: revised end-of-course student survey questions, an optional mid-course student survey, a faculty self-reflection, and peer observations of teaching. The Task Force developed a peer observation tool and protocol, which were piloted in Fall 2019 and Fall 2021 by 22 faculty representing 12 departments. The pilot included teaching faculty and tenure/tenure-track Faculty of all ranks. The Task Force refined the peer observation process based on faculty feedback and shared the results with faculty (via the Engineering Learning Conference and teaching faculty lunches), Department Heads, Academic Affairs, and Faculty Senate in Spring 2022 (see here for a report summarizing the work of the Task Force). After favorable feedback from all stakeholders, the Faculty Senate formed an Implementation Committee in Fall 2022, charged with exploring how to scale the revised tools, particularly the peer observations, campus wide.

Which courses would be observed?

Faculty will be asked to prioritize courses and class sessions where the observer is most likely to see evidence of the instructor’s course design and facilitation. For most faculty, this may look like 3+ credit “lecture” (versus lab) courses. We recommend prioritizing undergraduate courses, though graduate courses that meet the criterion above are also fine. The peer observation process is currently designed for courses that are taught face-to-face. If the overall process is implemented successfully, it will be important to develop a peer observation approach for online courses.

When would this take place for departments?

A department’s observation cycle would span one calendar year (January to December). The training, observations, and debrief would take place over the course of the spring semester. Completing observations within one semester should help faculty remember the training they completed when doing their observations and remember their observation takeaways when debriefing as a department. Any additional observations would be led by Peer Observation Fellows in the fall semester. These could include observations that could not be conducted in the spring (e.g., on sabbatical, not teaching, on leave, etc.) as well as observations that faculty request if they were not satisfied with their spring observation. Completing the observation cycle over a calendar year also means that information could be included in FDRs.

How will faculty be paired?

The Peer Observation Fellows will manage the pairing process for observations. In an observation year, one Peer Observation Fellow will be responsible for about 50–60 faculty from three departments. Pairings across departments will be encouraged. Before the pairings are determined, faculty will be able to provide some input on their potential pairing. For example, faculty could indicate their top and bottom choices for the paired faculty member or whether they prefer a pairing with a faculty member from their own department. It will also be important to pay attention to the rank of faculty members when making pairings. Peer Observation Fellows will produce a list of potential pairings based on input received and from guidelines (to be developed) for pairings. Department Heads will be asked to approve the observation pairing list before it is finalized to identify any possible conflicts.

How much time would this take for faculty?

Faculty would spend approximately six hours, every three years.

Training Meeting
1 hour at a regularly scheduled department meeting
Being Observed 1 hour outside of class time: pre-observation meeting (30min), post-observation meeting (30min)
Observing 3 hours: review course materials (30min), pre-observation meeting (30min), observation (1 hour), draft summary (30 min), post-observation meeting (30 min)
Department Debrief 1 hour at regularly scheduled department meeting
When can faculty request off-cycle observations?

Faculty could request an off-cycle peer observation from a Peer Observation Fellow for a number of reasons:

  • They do not feel that the class session from their department peer observation was a good representation of their teaching.
  • They were not teaching during their department’s peer observation cycle.
  • They need an additional observation before going up for promotion or tenure.
  • They would like additional feedback on their teaching.
Table 1 – Sample Groupings of Departments

Note: Faculty per department pulled F22

Faculty per POF
Faculty per Year
Mechanical Engineering 44 POF-C1-1 56
Geophysics 12
Economics and Business 17 POF-C1-2 58
Engineering, Design, & Society 16
Physics 25 114
Civil and Environmental Engineering 26 POF-C2-1 60
Metallurgical and Materials Engineering 20
Petroleum Engineering 14
Chemical and Biological Engineering 27 POF-C2-2 53
Honors & Scholars Program 5
Humanities Arts & Social Sciences 21 113
Chemistry 24 POF-C3-1 56
Geology and Geological Engineering 21
Mining Engineering 11
Applied Mathematics and Statistics 23 POF-C3-2 54
Computer Science 21
Electrical Engineering 10 110
Grand Total 337
Table 2 – Possible Peer Observation Fellow Responsibilities Over Two-Year Term