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.

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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)?

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