MONTREAL — What factors go into a student’s evaluation of a professor at the end of a semester? A new study finds finds that a number of variables, from a teacher’s sense of humor to attractiveness to his or her dedication determine how we personally view a given instructor.
The study also determined that gender seems to play a significant role in whether or not a student approves of a professor.
Researchers at Concordia University in Montreal analyzed 600 posts on the social media giant Reddit over a six-year period, in which users, or “redditors,” discussed both their “best” and “worst” instructors.
The researchers chose Reddit as a platform to examine because it’s perceived to have fairly honest commenters.
“Its users can be completely anonymous… allow[ing] participants to say what they wanted without fear of repercussions,” explains Sandra Chang-Kredl, the study’s co-author and assistant professor in the Department of Education, in a university news release.
Through categorizing the types of comments, the researchers found that ratings of teachers were usually determined by three factors: the professor’s unique personal and professional qualities, the student’s learning outcomes, and the student-teacher relationship.
Good personal and professional characteristics of a professor included being unique, intelligent, funny, dedicated, and physically attractive.
Bad personal and professional characteristics included being incompetent, lazy, unattractive, condescending, and biased.
This factor also revealed how many students looked at a certain behavior (e.g., being mild-mannered) in a positive or negative light that drastically differed from that of their peers (e.g., the professor being lazy versus being lenient).
Overall, this study shows how different students value different qualities in both an instructor and educational experience, which leads them to judge a teaching style accordingly.
It also presents a rebuttal to the one-size-fits-all approach to education, while challenging the prevailing wisdom in academia that “better” teachers should get paid more.
Lastly, perhaps most troubling, the perception of a professor was often predicated on gender: “good” teachers were more likely to be male, while “bad” teachers were more likely to be female.
The researchers hope that further inquiry can delve into this phenomenon.
The study’s findings were published in the journal Teaching and Teacher Education.