Peer Observations: Best Practices

Peer Observation of Teaching: Best Practices

According to its mission statement1, the primary goals of Iowa State University are to “create, share and apply knowledge to make Iowa and the world a better place.” According to the ISU Faculty Handbook, Section Scholarly Teaching, “Most faculty have significant teaching responsibilities, and the quality of their teaching is a major factor in evaluating their accomplishments and performances.”

Background and resources

Faculty members may use a portfolio format to document their teaching activities, including teaching philosophy, student ratings of teaching, teaching materials and forms of assessment, peer evaluations based on classroom observations and review of teaching materials, and evidence of student learning. There are multiple forms of standardized peer review for research documentation, including submitting work for presentation, publication, and grants. For teaching, there are fewer standardized and recognized means in which to be observed and evaluated. Given this reality, it is necessary to develop best practices for peer observation that may be individually yet, broadly adopted by colleges and units in the University.

Based on an initial document created by a CELT Advisory Board subcommittee in spring 2009, the following report was approved by the CELT Advisory Board in spring 2017.

Example evaluation templates

Quality Matters (QM) review processes for online/hybrid courses

Quality Matters (QM) is a faculty-centered, peer review process based on best practices to measure online and hybrid courses’ quality.

QM self-review tool

Course self-reviews engage instructors in deliberate thinking about the critical components that make their online courses effective. A Quality Matters Self-Review tool uses the QM Rubric to help instructors reflect on their plans around the course-specific logistics, learning objectives, assessments, instructional materials, learner activities, interaction, course technology, learner support, and accessibility and usability. 

One step for observed instructors to contextualize their courses and discuss potential areas they would like input from observers by using the self-guided reviews before the pre-observation meetings.

ISU’s instructors can create a free QM account to activate the semi-automated Self-Review tool inside the QM website under “Course Review Management Systems” in the top navigation bar. Once completed, a pdf version of the self-review can be exported and shared with peer observers.

Quality Matters as a collegial peer review process

Upon request, CELT can perform an internal review of online course design through a consultation revolving around specific courses and pedagogical concerns instructors might have about their course designs before their teaching is observed by teaching peer reviewers. The internal review uses the QM self-review tool performed by the CELT experts trained in the QM review processes and the QM underlying principles of collegiality, collaboration, continuous course improvement, and research-based commitment practices. Such reviews focus on course design only and are formative by nature. Not under review are the actual delivery of online courses and student-to-student and student-to-instructor actual interactions. Sharing the review results with teaching peer reviewers is at the discretion of observed instructors. 

Review the three parts of peer review by downloading this PDF.


1 “Mission and Vision,”, accessed April 5, 2017.