Monthly Archives: October 2014

Student evaluations of teaching: Effects of the Big Five personality traits, grades, and the validity hypothesis.

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Submitted by Anh-Thuy Le

Article Reference

Patrick, C. L. (2011). Student evaluations of teaching: Effects of the Big Five personality traits, grades, and the validity hypothesis. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 36(2), 239-249.

Article DOI

10.1080/02602930903308258

Summary of Article

Student evaluations of teaching (SETs) serve an important function, particularly at the college-level as they contribute in part to the promotion/tenure of faculty, which in turn is directly related to students’ education. Given this, it is critical that factors influencing student evaluations be more thoroughly examined. One such factor is instructor personality. As a result, in the current study, Patrick (2011) examined the influence of teachers’ personality traits (Big Five) on student ratings of the course as well as the instructor. The impact of grades on student ratings has also been widely studied, though findings have been mixed. In the current study, Patrick (2011) tested one hypothesis that may account for the positive relation between grades and SETs: the validity hypothesis, which suggests that this relation is due to the fact that students who learn more will perform better in that class and rightfully rate their instructors more highly as a result.

The sample comprised 176 upper- and lowerclassmen from seven general education courses, taught by five instructors. Students rated themselves and their teachers on the Big Five personality traits, and completed evaluations of their teacher, the course, the amount they learned, their expected grade, and demographic information. Results showed that all five personality traits of teachers were significantly related to student ratings of the course and the teacher (positive association for extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness; negative for neuroticism). Student agreeableness was positively related to ratings of the teacher’s ability but no other student traits showed an association. Further, after controlling for amount learned, expected grade did not explain significant variance in student evaluations of the teacher but did for ratings of the course. In the case of instructor personality traits, openness, and openness and conscientiousness did explain a significant amount of variance in ratings of the course and instructor, respectively. This impact was above and beyond that due to amount learned and expected grade.

Based on these findings, expected grade did not appear to influence ratings of teacher ability, although it did impact ratings of the course to a minor degree. As such, there is some support for the validity hypothesis as the amount that students learned accounted for their higher ratings of teachers, rather than the grade they expected to receive. Furthermore, instructor personality influenced student evaluations of both the course and the instructor. Thus, personality clearly plays a role in student perceptions of the teacher, though whether in a negative or a positive direction remains to be determined.

Discussion Questions

  1. The authors controlled for perceived amount of learning and grades to explain unique variance in teacher ratings due to personality traits. What other factors do you believe might contribute to students’ ratings of teachers? Specifically, which factors do you take into consideration when rating instructors?
  2. If an instructor is naturally low on the favored personality traits and high on the disfavored trait (neuroticism), what can they do to address this in terms of their own teaching style, the format of assignments, etc.? How do you view your own teaching style, based on the Big Five?
  3. Are certain personality traits more important depending on factors at the university level? For instance, the size of the student body, teaching vs. research-universities? What about the course being taught (e.g., humanities vs. physical sciences)?

The Flipped Class: A Method to Address the Challenges of an Undergraduate Statistics Course

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Submitted by Julia Cox

Article Reference

Wilson, S. G. (2013). The flipped class: A method to address the challenges of an undergraduate statistics course. Teaching of Psychology, 40, 193-199.

Article DOI

10.1177/0098628313487461

Summary of Article

In many psychology departments, introductory statistics courses present a unique challenge for students and instructors alike. Students often enter the course with a wide range of interest and experience in the topic, and instructors often struggle to make content relevant and engaging for this audience. Another challenge for today’s instructors can be generational; previous scholarship (e.g., Taylor, 2010, 2011) has identified several recommendations for teaching today’s tech savvy college students (i.e., “Generation NeXt”), including connecting course materials to students’ future goals, increasing engagement and activity in the classroom, requiring preparation for and attendance to class, and relocating content learning outside of the classroom.  Given the surfeit of readily accessible knowledge (e.g., the internet), instructors’ energies may be best used teaching students how to contextualize and apply this newly acquired information. To address these concerns, the author describes her redesigned statistics course that incorporates the “flipped” classroom model.

Wilson’s (2013) flipped classroom was a substantial departure from her previous content-heavy statistics courses, as she implemented a number of structural changes. First, students completed quizzes on required readings to ensure that content learning was done outside the classroom. Internet resources were made available to support independent learning. Students were also assigned to “learning groups” for the semester, based on their major and interests. Group homework was assigned to promote collaboration and engagement with the material. In-class activities were increasingly focused on statistic’s relevance to individuals’ goals, as the instructor attempted to forge a connection between course material and experiences with students’ future careers. Substantial credit was given to in-class activities, providing an incentive for students to attend class.

Wilson (2013) evaluated the success of her redesigned course in several ways. First, students provided evaluations of new activities. Unsurprisingly, the reading quizzes were unpopular, but many of the in-class activities, group activities, and assignments designed to highlight the relevance of certain statistical concepts were rated as somewhat or very helpful. Ratings of the overall course were also obtained, and, when compared to course ratings from past years, students’ ratings of course and instructor quality were markedly higher. Further, student performance, as measured by final grades and performance on exams, was significantly higher in the flipped course. Although many of these new strategies were successful, some students perceived their increased personal responsibility negatively. Wilson (2013) goes on to discuss how it may be difficult to apply these strategies to larger statistics courses. Ultimately, the author presents several ideas that may help increase the effectiveness and palatability of undergraduate statistics courses.

Discussion Questions

  1. Wilson describes her redesigned course in some detail and, as with all things, some new strategies were received more warmly than others. How does her method compare to your own experience in undergraduate statistics? Graduate statistics? Are there some strategies that you might be able to incorporate in to your own statistics course, should you be inclined to teach one?
  2. Wilson’s statistics sections were limited to 25 people. How might this “flipped” class design work in a larger statistics course? Does the current lecture/lab structure at VCU facilitate some of these strategies?
  3. Wilson cited the different learning needs of “Generation NeXt” as part of her reason for redesigning the course. Arguably, access to knowledge has expanded considerably (e.g., the internet), making the application of that knowledge a more salient classroom exercise. What do you make of that? What other content may benefit from this course structure?

Higher Education Students’ Beliefs About Student-Centered Learning: Beyond Educational Bulimia

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Submitted by Tennisha Riley

Article Reference

Lea, S., Stephenson, D., Troy., J. (2003). Higher Education Students’ Beliefs About Student-Centered Learning: Beyond Educational Bulimia. Studies in Higher Education, 28, 321-334.

Article DOI

DOI: 10.1080/03075070309293

Summary of Article

Student-centered learning has taken on many definitions over the years and is synonymous with learner-centered education or flexible learning (Lea, Stephenson & Troy, 2003). The primary objective of the authors was to first define student-centered learning. Secondly, from that definition how do we accurately measure whether a student-centered learning approach is effective in learning outcomes. The authors’ approach: Ask the students!

A mixed methods approach was used to assess student’s perceptions about student-centered learning approaches. The researchers developed 8 focus groups from 48 Psychology students. Some of the focus groups included undergraduates, while others included graduate students. The researchers also made sure to include both traditional students and mature students to account for age differences. When confronted with open-ended questions about student-centered learning, the researchers found that most students were unaware of this approach. However, they were able to develop a framework that fit the actual approach. Students characterized student-centered learning as having the ability to reach a heterogenous student body, instilling responsibility and accountability to the student and also a level of mutual respect between the faculty and the students. The primary concern for students was whether there was dissonance in what they hope for in student-centered learning and what is actually being practiced.

 

From the definitions, researchers conducted a larger quantitative study to assess agreement of the student-centered framework developed in the focus group. On average, most students agreed with how student-centered learning was defined. However, the researchers also included in their study some cynical definitions (i.e. student-centered learning is just a political slogan that means nothing) about the approach in which 40% agreed upon.

In conclusion, the researchers were able to use student feedback to assess what the true definition of student-centered learning should be. The primary view is that students believed that the student-centered learning approach would be beneficial to them but had some concerns about the true implementation and value to outside experiences.

Discussion Questions

  1. Thinking about some of the characteristics of student-centered approaches to learning. What are you own beliefs and perceptions of this approach as a student? What are some of your beliefs and perceptions as an instructor?
  2. The results of the study indicate that students have concerns about particular approaches to learning and how they may be applicable to the real world. How can instructors create an learning approach that influences learning both inside and outside of the classroom?
  3. Other empirical studies have noted that students do not always learn better through a student-centered approach, but that factors of the relationship between teachers and students is what contributes to the perception of increase learning. Is there a way to use a more balanced approach to teaching and also influence some of the relationship
    factors?