Students tend to give better evaluations to their professors if they think they're male instead of female, according to a study published last week in the journal Innovative Higher Education.
The study, led by Lillian MacNell, a doctoral student at North Carolina State University, used an online summer course on introductory anthropology and sociology to, essentially, catfish students. The class was divided into four discussion groups, with two assistant instructors, one male and one female, teaching two discussions groups each. The assistant instructors collaborated to write and teach in similar ways.
However, the male instructor only told one of his groups that he was male, and told his other group he was female. Likewise, the female instructor only told one group she was female, and told her other group she was male.
At the end of the course, students were asked to fill out an evaluation about their instructor. Overall, the instructors did not receive significantly different evaluations. But the female instructor received better evaluations when students thought she was male. The male instructor, meanwhile, received worse evaluations when students thought he was female.
The evaluations also included specific questions about how the instructor performed, and the responses to these questions reveal an even deeper bias. Both instructors returned grades to their students after two days. But when students were asked to rate their instructors on promptness, instructors perceived as male received an average rating of 4.35 out of 5, while instructors perceived as females received an average rating of only 3.55.
Male-perceived instructors also scored higher on questions about interpersonal measures, even though, according to the study, "both actual instructors demonstrated the same level of interpersonal interaction in their attempts to create a sense of immediacy in the online classroom." The researchers theorized that female instructors are generally expected to have high interpersonal skills -- meaning that a female instructor would have to work harder than a male instructor just to get the same rating.
The study argues that if these biases are coming across so clearly in teacher evaluations, "this particular form of inequality needs to be taken into consideration as women apply for academic jobs and come up for promotion and review."