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Just Point it Out

Pointing out that there are often discrepancies in student evaluations due to unconscious gender bias helps reduce that bias, a new study has found. These differences between course evaluations of female and male instructors can affect their tenure and promotion prospects.

Researchers from Iowa State University conducted a randomized experiment in which students from four large classes — two taught by male instructors and two taught by female instructors — received either a course evaluation form that alerted them to the prospect of gender bias in such an evaluation or the standard form. The courses involved were either an introductory biology class or an introductory American politics class.

As the Iowa State team reports in PLOS One this week, they found that adding language about gender bias boosted female instructors' scores, as compared to the standard form. Male instructors' scores remained the same between the two treatment groups.

"We were surprised to see a simple intervention have such a strong effect," first author Dave Peterson from Iowa State says in a statement. "It really is just one tool, but the results emphasize the need to talk about gender bias more broadly as we consider changes to how we evaluate teaching."