Students who think they're being taught by women give lower evaluation scores for those teachers than students who think they are being taught by men — no matter who was actually teaching them.
That's what a North Carolina State University study of college students taking online found. Instructors that students thought were men got notably higher ratings on professionalism, fairness, respectfulness, giving praise, enthusiasm and promptness.
To address whether students judge female instructors differently than male instructors, the researchers evaluated a group of 43 students in an online course. The students were divided into four discussion groups of 8 to 12 students each. A female instructor led two of the groups, while a male instructor led the other two.
However, the female instructor told one of her online discussion groups that she was male, while the male instructor told one of his online groups that he was female. Because of the format of the online groups, students never saw or heard their instructor.
At the end of the course, students were asked to rate the discussion group instructors on 12 different traits, covering characteristics related to their effectiveness and interpersonal skills.
"We found that the instructor whom students thought was male received higher ratings on all 12 traits, regardless of whether the instructor was actually male or female," MacNell says. "There was no difference between the ratings of the actual male and female instructors."
Why does this matter? "The ratings that students give instructors are really important, because they're used to guide higher education decisions related to hiring, promotions and tenure," said Lillian MacNell, lead author of a paper on the work and a Ph.D. student in sociology at NC State. "And if the results of these evaluations are inherently biased against women, we need to find ways to address that problem."
The paper, "What's in a Name: Exposing Gender Bias in Student Ratings of Teaching," was published online Dec. 5 in the journal Innovative Higher Education. [paid access only]