In any profession, performance evaluations matter. Just as a year-end review might be utilized by management to make decisions about salary, assigned duties, and general competency, professor’s assessments (including the course evaluations filled out by students) are used to make hiring, promotion, and even tenure decisions. Now, new research suggests what many have long suspected: male professors automatically receive better reviews than female professors.
(Photo Credit: peyri/Flickr)
North Carolina State University researchers Lillian MacNell, Dr. Adam Driscoll, and Dr. Andrea Hunt, choose to focus their attention on online course studies in order to blind students to the actual gender of instructors for this study. Two online professors, one male and one female, were each given two classes to teach. Each professor presented his or her gender accurately to one class and as the opposite with the other.
Although the study dealt with a relatively small sample size, the findings are interesting to consider because in an online context, professors were able to keep everything else about their teaching the same and vary only their perceived gender. The results of the study were marked, indicating that the differences in evaluation was the result of gender bias.
Across the board, students gave higher evaluations to professors they thought were male, regardless of their actual gender. In fact, the perceived female professor was docked points in all of 12 assessed categories which covered characteristics related to instructors’ effectiveness and interpersonal skills. MacNell noted:
“The differences in the promptness rating is a good example for discussion. Classwork was graded and returned to students at the same time by both instructors. But the instructor students thought was male was given a 4.35 rating out of 5. The instructor students thought was female got a 3.55 rating.”
The researchers plan to expand their research on the subject by studying additional online courses and different types of classes in order to “determine the size of this effect and whether it varies across disciplines.”
Student evaluations play a critical role in career outcomes for individuals in higher education. Although this research project is just beginning, these findings warrant serious consideration, and the area of study deserves further attention.
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