Monday, June 09, 2008

Article Note: On peer review for teaching

Citation for the article:

Samson, Sue and Donna E. McCrea. "Using Peer Review to Foster Good Teaching." Reference Services Review 36.1 (2008): 61-70.

Read via Emerald.

The only flaw with this article is that it may or not work with the colleagues who are resistant or the ones who say flat out, "I refuse to be told how to teach." And yes, I have had colleagues say that to me in very direct terms. Of course, the irony is that the person in question is probably not that good, but let us not digress further. The article discusses how PROT (Peer Review of Teaching) was implemented at Mansfield Library in the University of Montana. The authors emphasize that this was a formative form of evaluation, not summative. The Wikipedia link to summative evaluation gives a sense, but not as helpful. In essence, the difference is that formative evaluation is meant for learning while summative is the one you do at the end of the experience, usually for evaluation purposes (like annual reviews and other HR decisions). Here is how the authors define the experience:

"Summative evaluations are frequently comparative, open to public review, and can be used to make personnel decisions such as hiring or the award of tenure. PROT at the Mansfield library is a formative process designed to provide librarians with information they can use to improve their teaching (Chism 1999). It is based on the premise that we can all learn, that we are mentors, and that our willingness to learn inspires others to do so (Weimer, 1990). The program is entirely voluntary, and feedback is given in a confidential, non-threatening environment" (62).

Keep in mind their library is a little bigger than the types of places I have worked at. They have 13 librarians participating in instruction. The smaller the group of librarians, the more intimacy, if that word can be used, you get. If you are in a position as instructional leader, and you suggest something like this to the other two librarians or three who may teach the occasional class, you may end up getting the type of reaction I described earlier. A touch of diplomacy and gentleness may be in order. The article then provides the steps to the process; this is very practical and makes it easy to follow along if you are interested in trying out this system. I also noticed the authors drew on other tools from other universities. They did not reinvent the wheel, which is reassuring as well. Sources are well documented for further reading. If you want to have another way to asses an instruction program, and more importantly, to improve the teaching skill and ability of your librarians, this is definitely something to consider.

Some other notes from the article:

  • I liked the brief mission statement of their instruction program: "The central mission of the Library Instruction Program (LIP) at the Mansfield Library is 'to create information literate students who know how to find, evaluate, and use information effectively'" (62). To compare, here is what we have for our instruction program at UT Tyler. It was written by our instruction librarian. I like the idea of building a framework for learning how to learn.
  • On assessment tools. You can never have enough assessment tools, and this is what they have over there: "Librarians have access to a range of assessment tools, including student feedback forms, faculty feedback forms, aggregation of feedback data, programmatic statistics, teaching portfolios and, most recently, peer review" (62). I find the teaching portfolio idea particularly intriguing. I may have to go back in the literature and see if that is being used someplace else. I have seen having students in information literacy classes use portfolios, and I am familiar with the concept from my days as a school teacher, but for the librarians it may be something worth looking into.
  • I just thought this quote was neat: "Matthew O. Richardson (2000, p.13) writes: 'When an observer assumes the stance of a student of teaching, rather than an evaluator of teaching, great discoveries are possible.' He goes on to state that the peer observation process fosters career-long learning and promotes discussion of good teaching" (66).

No comments: