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Online Instructors Rate Higher If Students Think They’re Men

Studies have suggested that researchers and math teachers are biased against female students, and now there's a study suggesting that students are biased against female instructors as well. The experiment played out in an online course where the students never saw or heard their instructor.

The students were divided into four discussion groups, with a male and female instructor each leading two of the groups. The male told one group he was a man, and the other that he was a woman. The female instructor used the same ploy. At the end of the course, the students gave the male persona higher ratings in every one of 12 categories. The average was 4.35 out of 5 for a presumed male, 3.55 for a presumed female. "The ratings that students give instructors are really important, because they’re used to guide higher education decisions related to hiring, promotions and tenure," lead author Lillian MacNell, a sociologist at North Carolina State University, said in a news release. "And if the results of these evaluations are inherently biased against women, we need to find ways to address that problem."

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— Alan Boyle

In addition to MacNell, the authors of the study published in Innovative Higher Education, "What's in a Name: Exposing Gender Bias in Student Ratings of Teaching," include Adam Driscoll and Andrea Hunt.