Preliminary Meeting

Professor speaks to his class in language lab, CAS
Professor Scott Hartley, wearing protective glasses, talks with students in the lab, CAS

The preliminary meeting is the first physical/personal contact between the reviewer and the instructor and both parties must be prepared if this meeting is to be successful. The first topics of the conversation should be a discussion about the nature of the evaluation (formative or summative; see MUPIM definitions below) and why the evaluation was requested.

MUPIM 7.2C: Formative evaluations are designed to aid in the course and teaching development by the instructor and his or her mentors and peers.  These evaluations will not be used for summative purposes, such as promotion and tenure decisions or merit salary increases.  Rather, formative evaluations are designed to provide valuable feedback for the improvement of course design and instruction, and they may be conducted by the instructor.

MUPIM 7.2C: Summative evaluations conducted at the end of a term will be retained and used as a part of the evaluation process for tenure, promotion, post-tenure review, and merit salary increases.

The reviewer should request course documents prior to the meeting.  Documents may include course syllabi, handouts, pre-class quizzes, homework assignments due on the day of observation, teaching notes, presentation slides, or an overall teaching plan.  After examining the course documents, the reviewer conducts the meeting with the instructor. The meeting may include the following steps which are described in more detail below:  

  • Identify departmental standards for teaching
  • Identify instructor’s teaching goals and philosophy
  • Discuss course context
  • Discuss observation specifics
  • Establish ground rules
  • Identify review tools

Identify Departmental Standards for Teaching

The instructor should try to identify departmental standards for teaching (or divisional/university standards if not available) and discuss these with the reviewer (if the reviewer is not in the department).  This will help the reviewer understand the departmental expectation and provide some context for the review.

Discuss Course Context

This preliminary meeting provides an opportunity for the instructor to discuss the context of the course.  It is important for the reviewer to understand the context of the course because many of the instructor’s goals and choices are embedded in the course context.  The course context is divided into several dimensions with each dimension containing several components.  The dimensions and sample components are listed below:

  • Logistics:  Number of students, level of the course, elective/required course
  • Course objectives
  • Characteristics of the learners: Age, prior experience
  • Classroom dynamics: Unique components that describe faculty/student interactions
  • Characteristics of the teacher: Teaching experience (how long, how often taught this class), self-identified strengths and weaknesses
  • Characteristics of the classroom space (virtual vs. on-ground, large vs. small physical space, fixed vs. movable seating, technology vs. limited technology, etc.)

Discuss Observation Specifics

Observation specifics will stem from the discussion regarding why the evaluation was requested. A formative review can encompass any aspect of teaching, for example, an entire class session, curriculum materials, etc. There must be a clear understanding of what is to be observed.  The discussion will depend on the area of focus for the observation.  Discussion topics can include following:

  • Level of the review (formative or summative)
  • Fit between the observation focus and the course syllabus
  • How students’ prior knowledge is accessed and/or assessed
  • Methods and strategies that will be observed

Establish Ground Rules

It is important to establish the ground rules so that the reviewer and instructor understand expectations.  Ground rules may include:

  • The time between classroom observation and the first draft of the evaluation write-up (suggested timeframe is two weeks);
  • Whether the reviewer and instructor will meet to discuss a draft of the evaluation to address any possible changes prior to the final report;
  • Where will the evaluation go after it is complete (to the chair, just to the instructor);
  • Agreement on how often the reviewer will visit the classroom (two are recommended).

Identify Review Tools

The reviewer and instructor may wish to employ tools or template forms in the review.  If there is a departmental tool or another tool is selected, this is an opportunity for the reviewer and instructor to discuss specifics of the tool.  For tools, see Chism, N. V. N. (2007). Peer review of teaching - A sourcebook. 2nd Edition.San Francisco, CA: Anker Publishing.