Resource Types

Teaching Online

Peer Review and Mentoring

An Excerpt from Assessing the Online Learner by Rena M. Palloff and Keith Pratt

Yet another effective means by which online faculty evaluation can be accomplished is the use of a peer review and peer mentoring program. Mandernach, Donnelli, Dailey, and Schulte (2005) share the very extensive model used by Park University in Missouri. In this model, all instructors who teach online first go through faculty training for online teaching and then are assigned a peer faculty mentor who monitors their performance in an online course. The courses offered at Park University are eight – week intensive online courses. The mentor conducts five formative reviews of instructor performance:

  • A preterm review looks at the way in which the course has been set up.
  • A review at the end of week two evaluates the degree to which community building and interactivity have developed.
  • A review of the discussion, feedback, and grading occurs at week four.
  • At the end of week six, a review of assessment and preparation for final exams occurs.
  • During the final weeks of the term, a retrospective review is conducted, looking at overall course climate and organization.

This very intensive mentoring process may not be feasible for many institutions. Consequently, we offer this modified approach to and process for peer review and mentoring:

  • Phase 1 — Online Faculty Training. All new online faculty participate in online training involving not only training on the course management system in use but also best practices in online teaching; community building; effective use of discussions; effective assessments; and university policies governing online courses, grading, and so on. Experienced online faculty participate in a modified version of the training, focusing on university policies and a review of best practices.
  • Phase 2 — Shadowing. Faculty who will be teaching online are assigned to shadow another experienced instructor for a unit or two to see the course in action.
  • Phase 3 — Online Teaching with Mentor Shadowing. Once the instructor has completed shadowing a course and is ready to set up and teach his or her own course, the instructor whose course was shadowed acts as a mentor and shadows the new instructor ’ s course, offering suggestions as needed. To increase the effectiveness of the mentoring process, the new instructor should designate particular areas in which he or she desires feedback or support. The goal of the evaluation should be continuous quality improvement through identification of strengths and areas that could use additional training and support.

Once a cadre of experienced online faculty have been developed in this way, an ongoing peer review process can be established. DePaul University (2007) has devised such a program of ongoing peer review and provides specific guidelines to reviewers to assist them in preparing a narrative report about what has been observed. The following guidelines, with particular areas of focus, are adapted from the DePaul model:

Teaching and learning. Are the teaching methods used effective in promoting student engagement? Are the materials and the course well organized and presented clearly? Are the reading assignments effective? Is there sufficient rigor?

Knowledge of the subject matter. Does the way the instructor addresses and presents material indicate knowledge of the subject matter? Is presentation coherent, clear, and consistent?

Communication. What types of interactions take place (student – student, student – instructor)? Has the instructor established social presence? Is a learning community present? Is the instructor accessible, respectful, and engaged? Is feedback that is substantive and actionable regularly provided? Is assessment of student work fair? Does the instructor elicit feedback and reflections throughout the course?

Enthusiasm. Does the instructor demonstrate enthusiasm for the topic, for teaching, and for learning?

Development of competence. Does the instructor make implicit and explicit reference to course outcomes and program competencies? Are there clear criteria for assessing how well students have demonstrated competence?

One additional technique for faculty evaluation is the use of portfolios. Just as portfolios work well for assessment of competence for students, they work equally well in the review of faculty performance. Faculty who work at tenure – granting institutions are quite familiar with the preparation of a portfolio of their work and accomplishments. The preparation of a portfolio for online faculty evaluation is not dissimilar, but may contain some differing emphases. In Part Two, the online faculty portfolio review process used by the Organization Management and Development program at Fielding Graduate University is presented as a sample of how portfolio review for online faculty may be conducted.

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