Cultural Biases in Course Evaluations

Gender, Race, and Age Differences in Student Evaluations of Teaching: Quantitative and Qualitative Comparisons (with Sarah Mustillo, Ya Su, James Brockmole, and Mark Gunty)

Although considerable research has been done on gender differences in student evaluations of teaching (SETs), empirical support is mixed, possibly due to methodological differences across studies such as differences in research settings,  differences in measures, differences in methods, and differences in disciplines. Further, most studies have focused almost exclusively on gender, but it is likely that other instructor characteristics such as race and age impact student perceptions as well. In this study, we examine gender, race-ethnicity and age differences across more than 120,000 SETs while controlling for relevant course-level, instructor-level, and student-level characteristics using a combination of structural topic models and multilevel regression models.

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When controlling for confounding characteristics, we find small gender differences, but rather large race-ethnicity and age differences in how instructors are rated numerically by students. While gender, racial-ethnic, and age differences also exist in the open-ended qualitative evaluations, they are notably smaller when compared to the quantitative evaluations. We draw from theories on dual process cognition, perception, and expectation states to account for these findings, noting that while evaluators may rely on cultural stereotypes of gender, race, and age as a shorthand to attribute perceptions of competency, these biases are more pronounced when the evaluator is tasked with making an impulsive evaluation relative to a more reflective evaluation.