Peer Observation and Teaching Evaluations

Recommended Citation: Gleason, Nancy W. and Sanger, Catherine S., “Guidelines for Peer Observation of Teaching: A Sourcebook for International Liberal Arts Learning” Centre for Teaching and Learning, Yale-NUS College, Singapore (September 2017).

New Policy re: Frequency of Summative Peer Observations (March 2021)

As of March 2021, Yale-NUS faculty are expected to fulfil the following:

  • A minimum of ONE summative peer observation letter for the Third Year Review.
  • A minimum of TWO summative peer observation letters for the Promotion and Tenure dossier, which may include the one obtained before the Third Year Review. These observations should normally be conducted in different modules and semesters.
  • A minimum of TWO additional summative peer observation letters for Promotion to Full Professor. The observations should be conducted during the period after the Promotion and Tenure Review and should normally be carried out in different modules and semesters.
  • For non-Tenure-track faculty members, ONE summative peer observation letter per 3-year contract and TWO summative evaluations per 5-year contract, due at the time of contract renewal.
  • In the case of other contract durations, they should submit the number of letters using the formula of halving the number of years in the contract and rounding down (i.e. for 4-year contracts, 2 summative evaluations are needed; for 7-year contracts, halving the duration yields 3.5, so 3 summative evaluations are needed.) These observations should normally be conducted in different modules and semesters.
  • Faculty members may, at their own discretion, opt to include more reports in their dossiers. They are also encouraged to participate in formative peer observation.

Peer Observations of Teaching

The goal of peer observation is to document, learn from, and share ideas about teaching and learning. It is hoped that peer observation will become a routine, productive, and collegial part of life at the college to the equal benefit of observing and observed faculty. This process was developed to help good teachers become even better, more confident teachers. Ours is a reciprocal, collaborative, and developmental peer observation process befitting an innovative ‘community of learning.’

Peer observation is beneficial to our culture of teaching excellence in several ways:

  1. Helps all instructors develop best practice in teaching
  2. Enables us to collaborate with and learn from colleagues
  3. Ensure that good teaching is recognized both in the collegiate culture and more specifically in tenure and promotion decisions

To achieve these inter-related ends, Yale-NUS College promotes two similar but distinct types of teaching observation – one formative, and one summative. They are detailed below.

Who Receives Observations

Formative observation is required of all faculty at all ranks, including visiting faculty. All faculty will be expected to have their own teaching observed, and to observe another faculty member’s teaching, at least once per year in which they are teaching at least one course. Faculty teaching in the common curriculum are having their teaching observed by peers quite frequently, and can request their common curriculum colleagues to conduct formative observations for them as well.

Summative observation is required for all faculty who will participate in third year review and undergo tenure and promotion review. Faculty who have attained the highest rank in their appointment (e.g. professors with a tenure-track appointment, professors with a non-tenured practice appointment and associate professors with an educator-track appointment) do not need to undergo summative observation. Faculty up for Third Year Review should have at least 1 letter and faculty up for Tenure and Promotion should have at least 2 letters.

Distinguishing Formative and Summative Observation

Formative Summative
Observer Gains Learn new strategies, consider new ideas, and contribute to peer’s professional development.
Faculty Member Gains Greater self-awareness, intentionality, insight into achievement of student learning goals and of generally relevant good practices in education.

Opportunity to demonstrate reflective practice and self-assess improvement in teaching over time.

Gains from formative observation + Evidence of development as an educator, commitment to teaching excellence, and teaching effectiveness.

Complement to student evaluations.

Evidence of reflective practice and improvement which can be referenced in teaching statements.

Format Observer or faculty member can initiate request.

Up to participants – can be very informal or more structured following summative observation protocol.

Faculty member initiates request for summative observation, consulting with divisional director to select appropriate observer.

Pre-observation conversation à One or more classroom visit à Post-observation conversation à Formal written report shared with faculty member and submitted to file.

Timing & Number of Observations Annually — Every faculty member, including visiting and tenured faculty, should conduct and receive a formative observation every year they are teaching at the College. Annually – Every faculty member except those who already attained the highest rank in their appointment are recommended to receive summative observation every year they teach at the College.

A faculty member should have at least 1 letter by Third Year Review, and 2 letters by Tenure and Promotion review.

Training Recommended, Not Required Strongly Recommended – this is important for fairness, to mitigate implicit bias, and promote evaluative consistency across the faculty.
What to Observe 1. Faculty member’s own teaching goals and techniques.

2. Indicators of achievement of faculty member’s teaching goals.

3. Areas for improvement or innovation in achievement of those teaching goals and execution of teaching strategies.

4. Evidence of teaching excellence consistent with indicators of good practice in undergraduate teaching.

5. Areas for improvement to better align with good practice in undergraduate teaching.

How to Observe Can be very informal data collection and reflection-in-the-moment.

Encouraged to use more structured data collection tools – see Observation Organizers below.

Strongly encouraged to use some structured note-taking method to focus and record observation. See below for some suggested Observation Organizers.
Reporting & Deliverables All faculty will be prompted in their annual review to provide the names and dates of observations they have performed and received.

No formal letter or report is required. Individual observers may want to provide some written feedback to the faculty member they observed.

Reflective writing by both observer and faculty being observed is recommended, though not required, to consolidate learning from the experience.

All summative observations should conclude with a letter provided by the observer to the faculty member.

Observer will upload the letter in the annual review portal.

Process for Summative Observations

The summative observations should follow a four-part process: pre-observation conversation, classroom observation(s), post-observation conversation, reflection, and feedback.

  1. Pre-Observation Conversation: Meet to discuss pre-observation questions, establish ground-rules, and clarify expectations. Observer should review the course syllabus and other course materials to learn how the class to be observed fits into the larger course design. (One week prior to classroom observation.)
  2. Classroom Observation: Observer attends class and quietly observes, taking notes on teaching strategies and evidence of student learning.
  3. Post-Observation Conversation: Observer and faculty member meet, faculty member shares own experience and self-assessment. Observer shares observations and feedback verbally and/or in writing, and invites faculty member to share concerns and points of clarification. (Two/three days after observation.)
  4. Feedback: Observer writes a formal letter based on classroom observations and pre- and post-observation conversations. This letter should include an overall assessment of the teaching observed. Observer then uploads the letter to the annual review portal.

Open Classroom Project

Our colleagues Mira Seo, Matt Stamps, and Jean Liu have developed an online platform to help Yale-NUS faculty share their teaching.  Open Classroom allows you to find out what Yale-NUS faculty are teaching, open your own classroom to visitors, and request visits to other classes. Want to check out a Common Curriculum lecture, or connect with a colleague in a different division?  Open Classroom enables easy browsing of course offerings and facilitates casual visits between colleagues. Like AirBnB, you control who can come to your classroom, and how many visitors you wish to accommodate, if any.  You can request to visit, or accept visitors to your own class, customise your classes with tags for greater searchability, or add to the descriptions of individual class meetings. See user guide for more information. (Open Classroom requires you to login with your Yale-NUS password, and works best in NUS wifi or when connected to NUS VPN.)

Documents and Form for Download

The full Guidelines on both formative and summative observation is available here: Guidelines on Peer Observation of Teaching

The Documentary Organiser is focused on documenting each section or activity that occurs during the class, and then providing space for the observer to comment on that activity and the learning they observe at that point in time.

The Thematic Organiser is focused on particular themes, ideally drawn from the faculty member’s own stated learning aims and aforementioned “good practices.”

The Criteria Organiser is focused on specific standards of good teaching drawn from literature on pedagogy and student learning.

Recommendations for Peer Observation of Online and Hybrid Courses

The CTL is grateful to Assistant Professor Malcolm Keating for drawing on his knowledge of remote instruction to produce this resource to guide the peer observation of online and hybrid teaching. Many of our colleagues have put a great deal of thought and energy into transitioning their courses to online formats. These recommendations will help observers document these efforts. This is also a very useful tool for self-evaluation for those who are teaching online and hybrid.

As always, we encourage all observers to have a pre-observation conversation with the faculty member they are observing to understand their own goals and intentions. This will ensure that the observer can give feedback which is of greatest relevance to the faculty member being observed.

View the Recommendations Here.

Here are additional resources on observation of online an remote courses for those who are interested:

Assessing your course

Assessing your course is a critical way for faculty to find areas of improvement in the design and execution of their courses. Below you will find resources that may help find strategies to better evaluate your courses.

Strategies for Conducting Student Evaluations

Overview: Gives a good step-by-step bird’s eye view of how the process could be conducted. Also provides interesting resources (‘Instructor Perspective’ below) where a professor shares personal feelings and thoughts going through each stage e.g. processing students’ negative criticisms.

Conducting Early Course evaluations: An early-bird option if you prefer feedback earlier than mid-term, or who want to do an earlier round of feedback prior to mid-terms. Conducting early course evaluations, choosing an evaluation form, sample evaluation forms PDF, organising student feedback, interpreting student feedback, discussing student feedback with the class.

Figuring out teaching goals: It is difficult to track how well goals have been achieved without knowing what those goals are in the first place. This questionnaire is a tool to help you figure out and tabulate the teaching goals that are important. Comparison of results with a sample of teachers and the results of the discipline as a whole are available too.

Figuring out teaching perspectives: Similar to the Teaching Goals Inventory, except this tool focuses on helping you become more mindful and cognizant about your teaching ideals, and perspectives.

Adding Customised Student Evaluation Questions

You can customise your student course evaluation questions. Here are some suggestions regarding the course evaluation exercise:

  1. Use class time for the evaluation exercise. A high response rate can be important for identifying patterns of success and areas for improvement. We recommend you leave the room so they do not feel pressured while filling out the assessment.
  2. Explain the purpose and structure of the evaluation. Students often don’t understand what these are for and who gets to see them. You may want to tell students that you value feedback and what constitutes constructive feedback. You can also share that their feedback will be anonymized and included in your file for annual review/ tenure and promotion. This may encourage students to give feedback that is professional and constructive.
  3. Add a customized question or two: Here is a bank of student evaluation questions to draw upon and adapt. Some areas where you may want to add a customized question:
    1. Signature pedagogical approaches you want to document.
    2. New approaches/ strategies about which you want targeted feedback.
    3. Areas where you want to demonstrate a trajectory of improvement over time

Writing Feedback Surveys to Assess Your Course

Our Yale-NUS College Centre for Teaching and Learning is happy to help you with mid-semester assessments. We have already installed a set of five field-tested surveys on all of the faculty Canvas sites, which can be set up and deploy with just a few mouse clicks. We have worked with Education, Resources and Technology (ERT) to develop a guide on how to publish mid-semester surveys, which should provide you step-by-step instructions on how to set up these surveys on Canvas.

Below are a few other examples of surveys you might find useful:

What to do after collecting feedback

A series of articles available online and in PDF where professors share their own personal experience and strategies when collecting and processing student evaluations.

How I Read My Student Evaluations by Cedar Reiner

Key points. Interpretation strategies for reading student evaluations. Personal sharing of psychological process when taking in feedback. Framing tips prior to evaluation exercise to invite candid, considerate and constructive responses.

Taking Stock: Evaluations from Students by Robert F. Bruner

Key points. Things to have in mind and look out for while processing gathered feedback e.g. cross sectional patterns, trends etc. How to consolidate ideas and suggestions gathered and come up with an action plan.

The “Course Evaluation Follow-up” Form by Cheryl Krueger

Key points. Handy form to have for lecturers to consolidate experience with the course and to reflect on the overall process.

Using Mid-Semester Evaluations to Encourage Active Learning by Carey Sargent

Key points. Touches on how you can use collected feedback to have a conversation with students about making adjustments to the course at the halfway mark, addressing issues and trends in the classroom, about assignments etc.

Other Informal Assessment Methods

If formal assessments aren’t your thing, here are a set of quick and informal exercises or tools you can have your students do to achieve the same objectives. These Informal Assessment methods, called Critical Assessment Techniques (CATs) are designed to engage students in their learning process by conferring them active roles in informing the what is taught and how teaching is carried out.

Making Learning Active

  • Identify the Muddiest Point: Instructors can ask students to write a short note about which part of a lesson made the least sense to them and why.
  • Student-Generated Test Questions: Students can be assigned into groups, each addressing a topic in an upcoming test, to generate potential test questions. Instructors can choose the best questions from each group, so that every student will feel familiar with at least part of the test for which they are preparing.
  • Student Report Groups: Instructors can call upon volunteers to meet in a small group on a regular basis to provide feedback and ideas on how the class is proceeding.
  • Exam Evaluations: A few questions can be included at the end of a test that asks students to rate how successfully the test evaluates their knowledge or skills.
  • Suggestion Boxes: A box can be left in the front of the classroom into which students can drop notes expressing issues they might have with the class.

Enhancing Content Retention

  • One-Minute Papers: Provide students with a short questionnaire at the end of class that asks students to describe their most and least favourite things about the day’s class.
  • Chain Notes: Pass an envelope around and have each student submit a question about the class content. These questions can be addressed in later lesson plans.
  • Journals: Require students to keep journals to record thoughts and feelings on the class. These can be used to evaluate student attitudes on class content, perceptions of the importance of what they are learning, and comprehension of course material.

Extracted from Online Universities blog

Working with the CTL to assess your course

Our Yale-NUS College Centre for Teaching and Learning is happy to help Yale-NUS faculty with mid-semester assessments. If Yale-NUS faculty would like CTL staff to help design an assessment of a course, we are happy to arrange a meeting to discuss some of the options below:

Focus Groups – We can meet with groups of students to discuss the course, and relay our findings to faculty in a confidential manner. These focus groups can be constructed from sub-samples of students in the course, or can be conducted in the last 15 minutes of a class, where we would provide facilitation of a discussion of the class and relay our findings to faculty.

Video Recording of Class – We are happy to arrange for a video of classes to be taken, and to consult with faculty afterwards to look at the video and review some of the dynamics within the classroom and teaching methods. While it is often difficult to look at oneself while teaching, it can be a helpful way to reveal distracting motions or other issues in the classroom. The results could really help to improve teaching skills in the classroom and are worth it!

Customised Surveys – We can help design unique surveys of classes, and administer those surveys via Canvas or the Qualtrics survey software. These surveys can be designed to assess student attitudes, domain knowledge, and emerging competencies in classes. Such assessments can be very valuable for validating new curricula and innovative teaching, and we are happy to work with faculty to help make the classroom environment an optimal learning environment, as well as a research-validated innovation in higher education!

Consultations – Our staff is happy to just talk one-on-one with faculty to find out how things are going – what is working and what can be improved. We can suggest literature – books, articles and videos – that might help as courses are taught. Send an email to and we will set up an appointment!

It is the policy of the Yale-NUS Centre for Teaching and Learning to respect the confidentiality of the consultation process. All correspondence and information associated with these consultations are confidential. The Centre’s feedback process has no bearing on promotion or tenure decisions and is in no way associated with division-based evaluative reports.

Books on Evaluating your Course

The following books are available in the Yale-NUS library for faculty seeking further information about designing and assessing their courses.

Author(s) Title Publisher ISBN
Blumberg, Phyllis Assessing and Improving Your Teaching: Strategies and Rubrics for Faculty Growth and Student Learning Jossey-Bass 9781118275481