Representation Matters: What Student Teaching Evaluations Say About Institutions 

Following the end of a busy semester, students are often required to complete teaching evaluations for each of their classes. In recent years, these evaluations have become a contentions topic amongst educators. Despite numerous reports that student evaluations do not accurately measure teaching effectiveness, many institutions still rely on them for determining faculty promotions. The lack of accuracy in student evaluations is a result of various biases including gender, ethnicity, and age.

In this article by Fan et al., the researchers examined gender and cultural biases in a large dataset of student evaluations in Australia (523,703 evaluations collected in five faculties over seven years). The researchers defined culture bias as “the combination of biases related to language background, embodiment or presentation of (presumed) racial/ethnic identity, and beliefs or conventions particular to a given cultural context.” After analyzing the student evaluations, they observed statistically significant bias against women and staff with non-English-speaking backgrounds. They did note, however, that these effects do not appear in every faculty. 

This study provides support to the growing idea that student evaluations should only be used to monitor student experience. Moreover, it highlights the fact that institutions need to take active roles in reducing bias. As suggested in this article, institutions can begin to tackle gender and cultural biases by ensuring staff diversity and offering bias training for students. Training students to be less biased will positively impact not only educational institutions, but also the surrounding communities.

Summary written by: Emma Finlayson-Trick

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