Dissertation Abstract

Faculty Members’ Professional Growth in Teaching Through the Summative Peer Review of Teaching and Other Departmental Practices

This study investigated the ways that summative peer review of teaching contributes to tenure-track faculty members’ professional growth in teaching. It also explored other practices that support or hinder a departmental culture that values teaching.

Using the lens of academic culture, I drew on literature about the peer review of teaching, department culture, and professional growth in academic careers to inform this research. Thirty tenure-track faculty members from six departments and two faculties participated in semi-structured qualitative interviews. Participants were asked about their experiences of summative peer review, how they understood the relationship between peer review and their growth as instructors, and departmental practices that contribute to a culture that values teaching.

Participants had varied and inconsistent experiences of summative peer review of teaching. They reported multiple purposes (evaluative, formative, supplement to the student evaluations of teaching) that frequently conflicted. With few known guidelines that direct peer reviews and insufficient clarity as to their purpose, faculty members conducted summative reviews based on a personal sense of “what was best.” Given the demanding nature of academic careers and an institutional reward system that favours research over teaching, peer reviews were primarily limited to classroom observations and engaged few faculty members in dialogue. Such summative peer reviews appeared to make minimal contribution to professional growth in teaching.

The study did find numerous other departmental practices conducive to a culture that values teaching, i.e., informal collegial conversations about teaching and team teaching. Faculty members who partook in these grew as instructors. Results demonstrated that academic values and norms (i.e., collegiality and autonomy), disciplinary traditions pertaining to collaboration, and institutional rewards influenced how faculty members pursued professional growth as teachers.

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