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It is important to determine if student ratings of instructors reflect systematic bias due to sex of instructor. We posed research questions as to whether male and female students would rate male or female instructors more highly on five dimensions of student rating forms, one of which was instructor interaction. Results indicated that male and female students rated female instructors more highly on all five dimensions. The effect sizes of these results were extremely small, but significant due to the large sample size (almost 12,000). These findings suggest that administrators should not assume one sex to provide better or poorer instruction, and they should reward instructors on the basis of individual course performance rather than according to instructor sex. Keywords: teaching evaluations, sex differences.
Student ratings of instructors' teaching skill are put to important uses in higher education. Administrators use these ratings as feedback mechanisms so that instructors can make teaching improvements. Evaluations also constitute the basis of personnel decisions in staffing courses, raises for faculty, and for tenure and promotion decisions. In addition, accreditation and government bodies use instructor rating instruments to assess institutional accountability. As such, it is vital that they reflect unbiased ratings of instructors by students. In and of themselves, sex differences in ratings do not reflect bias in that, if differences do exist, one sex might actually be better teachers and thus be ranked more highly. However, one area in which potential bias has been investigated is that of sex differences in the ratings that male and female instructors receive from male and female students. A complicated set of findings emerged in this regard. The goal of this research is to assess whether or not sex differences in instructor ratings were present over two semesters of student ratings for three departments in a College of Communication and, if so, whether they were due to sex differences in student raters.
In order to achieve this goal, we consider the importance of teaching evaluations. We review previous findings and pose research questions about differential ratings of male and female instructors by male and female students. Finally, we present tests that answer these questions and discuss the findings.
Importance of Student Evaluations
A large majority of colleges and universities use student teaching evaluations of instructors. The widespread use of them began in the 1960s, and by the late 1970s department heads ranked student evaluations as one of the top three sources of information on teaching effectiveness (Centra, 1993). Student evaluations of instructor teaching effectiveness have many uses by different constituents of higher education. First, faculty members themselves can use the results as a feedback mechanism in order to improve their teaching skill and effectiveness (Centra, 1993; Neumann, 2000; Smith, Medendorp, Ranck, Morrison, & Kopfman, 1994). University administrators and tenure and promotion committees regularly use these ratings to make salary, tenure, and promotion decisions for faculty members and as the basis of how to staff courses (Arreola, 1995; Neumann, 2000; Park, 1996). Students use the ratings, when they are made public, to make course and section selection decisions (Feldman, 1993; Neumann, 1994). Finally, administrators, disciplinary oversight bodies, state and federal agencies, and the general public use the ratings to determine accountability and accreditation issues (Arreola, 1995; Braskamp & Ory, 1994; Williams & Ceci, 1997). It is vital that information used for such important and varied purposes is a fair representation of teaching skill and effectiveness. Two areas in which there have been differences in ratings of teaching effectiveness and skill are sex of instructor and sex of students who rate the female and male instructors.
Sex Differences in Student Evaluations
A selective overview of previous research illustrates the increasing sophistication of investigations and the mixed findings on evaluations of male and female instructors. For instance, students perceive male instructors as more competent instructors (Lombardo & Tocci, 1979) and more highly educated than female instructors (Miller & Chamberlin, 2000). Fandt and Stevens (1991) find that male and female business students generally evaluate male instructors higher than female instructors in terms of style of organization, enthusiasm, credibility, and effectiveness in business classes. Male instructors perceive that students refer to them by honorific titles more often than female instructors (Heckert et al., 1999), and female instructors at a military college report receiving less respect than their male counterparts (Siskind & Kearns, 1997). In contrast, Sinclair and Kunda (2000) find that students rank female instructors as more competent after providing praise than male instructors, but the reverse is true after females give criticism to students.
Feldman's (1992, 1993) investigations best evidence the microcosm of research on ratings per sex of the instructor. He reports that (a) males …