the teaching skills of the faculty members with whom they work. They also can offer useful insight and perspective on the collection of courses and curricula offered by their academic department (Lambert and Tice, 1992; National Research Council [NRC], 1995b, 1997b, 2000b). Because teaching assistants routinely observe classes and work with students throughout the term, they can comment on course organization, the effectiveness of an instructor’s presentations and interactions with students, the fairness of examinations, and the like. Teaching assistants also can assess how well the instructor guides, supervises, and contributes to the development and enhancement of his or her own pedagogical skills. As continuing graduate students, however, teaching assistants may be vulnerable to pressures that make it difficult to provide candid evaluations. Thus when they are asked to evaluate their instructors, special precautions, such as ensuring confidentiality, must be taken.
tions of teaching, few studies exist concerning the efficacy of peer review, and those available tend to be limited in scope. Research has demonstrated that extended direct observation of teaching by peers can be a highly effective means of evaluating the teaching of an individual instructor (e.g., American Association for Higher Education [AAHE], 1995; Hutchings, 1996). However, colleges and universities do not use classroom observation widely in the assessment of teaching.
A common but erroneous assumption is that peer evaluations of teaching, including evaluations by department chairs, are best conducted through classroom observation (Seldin, 1998). Even when peer evaluation does involve extensive classroom observation, problems can occur. For example, some research has shown that when an instructor’s evaluation is based solely on classroom observation, the raters exhibit low levels of concurrence in their ratings (Centra, 1975). This may be because many faculty and administrators have had little experience in conducting such reviews in ways that are fair and equitable to those being reviewed. Another reason may be that such observation is not part of the culture of teaching and learning within a department. It may be possible to train faculty in observation analysis, providing them with the skills, criteria, and
Compared with the extensive research on the utility8 of student evalua-