Student Voice

Gender Stereotypes in the Text of Teaching Excellence Submissions

By Stuart Grey

At Student Voice, one of our guiding aims is to better use the free-text data that is already collected at universities to make sure that we are listening to all groups of students. A key step in this process is trying to find and quantify bias within these comments.

This paper investigated gendered differences in student-submitted nominations for an excellence award in a mid-sized university in England. The shifting standards theory, which proposes that evaluative standards can shift due to stereotyping effects, was used to interpret findings.

The paper investigates student perceptions of high-quality teaching and how it may, in turn, affect their nominations for teachers. Results suggest that students are more likely to nominate teachers of the same gender. Male students were also disproportionately less likely to nominate a female teacher.

The aim of the study was to find out if there was a relationship between gender and a student's likelihood to nominate a teacher, and what students considered to be excellent teaching.

The study found that students found excellent teachers to be engaging, inspiring, motivating, friendly, charismatic and organised.

The qualities identified above arguably represent qualities that students might value in staff; however, they do not necessarily predict what makes staff excellent educators.

Excellence in Teaching is a term that has been difficult to define. One can make broad generalizations about what constitutes excellence, but it's impossible to produce a definition that applies uniformly across all contexts. The notion that excellence is not objective, but rather subjective also complicates matters.

When it comes to female teachers, there is a significant disparity when compared to male colleagues in the perception of intelligence and scholarship. This may stem from the roles associated with women in HE being undervalued relative to those associated with men. This pattern is not limited to academia or HE, but can also be seen in other professions.

The Shifting Standards Theory (SST) proposes that individuals can be evaluated against different standards depending on the stereotypes associated with the group an individual belongs to.

Estimates of highest educational attainment are an example of a common-rule measure, in which raters are instructed to refer to some objective standard or scale when making evaluations. Common-rule measures can produce assimilative effects, while subjective measures may have either a null or contrastive effect, masking the stereotyped view.

Minimum standards are the threshold at which there is suspicion that a target possesses some characteristic (e.g., being humorous), while confirmatory standards refer to the point at which there is certainty of this. People stereotyped as deficient in x would find it more difficult to convince raters that they indeed possessed x due to an increase in confirmatory standards.

  • Minimum standards for competent performance of x-related tasks are lower for a group stereotyped as incapable of x.
  • Minimum standards for competent performance of x-related tasks are higher for a group stereotyped as proficient in x, and are in fact very similar to the confirmatory standards.

People are more likely to assimilate to stereotypes when they engage in zero-sum actions. Non-zero-sum actions don't require taking anything and show some null and contrastive effects.

Male students are significantly less likely than female students to regard female teachers as excellent; even without considering nominations for males, nominations by females were overrepresented. The disproportionate infrequency of MF nominations is consistent with evidence that female teachers tend to be evaluated less favourably than male teachers, particularly by male students.

The unequal gender distribution of the nominations suggests that gender can influence the extent to which teachers are regarded as excellent in the first place. The gender distributions for the themes of availability and supportiveness were significantly more unequal than expected, with males mentioning these themes less frequently than expected when nominating male teachers, and females mentioning these themes more frequently than expected when nominating female teachers

Also of interest, themes pertaining to stereotypically masculine traits were overrepresented in FF nominations and female teachers who emphasised these traits were nominated more often.

The results show a slight female bias in the themes of Approachable and Engaging; this is consistent with gendered expectations that women should be nurturing and warm when interacting with others.

An analysis of the effects of gender in student conceptualisations of teaching excellence reveals that there are gendered differences in whether teaching excellence is recognised in the first place and what it is recognised to be.

It may be tempting to assume that there is objectivity in how teaching is evaluated, whether by students or other stakeholders; however, to ignore the role of sociocultural norms-and their inextricability from standards and benchmarks would leave unchallenged a hegemony where those devalued in society are also devalued in HE.


[Paper Source]: Kathryna Kwok and Jacqueline Potter "Gender stereotyping in student perceptions of teaching excellence: applying the shifting standards theory"
DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2021.2014411

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