Monday, March 05, 2007

Deborah Merritt on Factors Affecting Student Evaluations

Thanks to a link by Ann Bartow over at feminist law professors, I read Deborah Jones Merritt's important new article Bias, The Brain, and Student Evaluations of Teaching. Here's Professor Merritt's abstract:

Student evaluations of teaching are a common fixture at American law schools, but they harbor surprising biases. Extensive psychology research demonstrates that these assessments respond overwhelmingly to a professor's appearance and nonverbal behavior; ratings based on just thirty seconds of silent videotape correlate strongly with end-of-semester evaluations. The nonverbal behaviors that influence teaching evaluations are rooted in physiology, culture, and habit, allowing characteristics like race and gender to affect evaluations. The current process of gathering evaluations, moreover, allows social stereotypes to filter students' perceptions, increasing risks of bias. These distortions are inevitable products of the intuitive, “system one” cognitive processes that the present process taps. The cure for these biases requires schools to design new student evaluation systems, such as ones based on facilitated group discussion, that enable more reflective, deliberative judgments. This article draws upon research in cognitive decision making, both to present the compelling case for reforming the current system of evaluating classroom performance and to illuminate the cognitive processes that underlie many facets of the legal system.
We talk about student evaluations every now and there here at money-law. I think you'll enjoy (and also be shaken by) Merritt's extensive discussion of the biases that affect student evaluations.

I have a very warm spot in my heart for Professor Merritt, because when I was a law student we handed around her outlines as the ancients treated sacred texts. For all I know, students are still circulating them....


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it alternately interesting, humorous and sad that so much social science has gone into a study proving what we knew since 1st grade--attractive people w/o annoying quirks go farther in life.

Incidentally, if an overwhelming majority of students gives poor reviews on matters of substance, the chances are that the problem lies not with the taught but with the teacher.

...But that's okay; keep grinding out those studies which arrive at self-evident conclusions and raise unanswerable questions!

3/06/2007 3:25 PM  

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