Sunday, October 23, 2011

Do attractive teachers get better student teaching evals?

This article studied the effect of teacher attractiveness, dressing well and possessing a "likeable" personality on student teaching evaluations. "Looking Good, Teaching Well? Linking Liking,
Looks, and Learning
" 34 Teaching of Psychology 5 (2007) by Professors Regan A. R. Gurung and Kristin M. Vespia of the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay.

From the introduction:

Do attractive teachers’ students learn better? Researchers consistently find that people equate beauty with goodness and believe attractive individuals possess numerous positive qualities, but few negative attributes. Attractiveness also contributes to first impressions. Given the speed at which they occur and the resistance of first impressions to change, attractiveness and other personal characteristics may influence perceptions of others, including teachers.  Attractiveness is a powerful social tool, but does that mean students learn more from attractive teachers?

A spate of recent publications have addressed this issue of teachers’ attractiveness, perhaps spurred by the popularity of Webbased systems such as which rate instructors not just on how clearly they present material and how helpful they are, but also on physical appearance. A substantial literature links attractiveness to evaluations. Furthermore, students believe instructor attractiveness relates to their educational experience. Students presented with a photograph of an attractive professor believed they would learn more from him or her than students who viewed a picture of an unattractive instructor. These students also recommended the attractive faculty member more highly to others, and they rated the teacher as more willing to provide help and less blameworthy for failing grades.

Other noninstructional factors influence student perceptions of instructors and course evaluations, including instructor warmth, immediacy, likability and reputation.  Researchers have also investigated “ideal” instructor characteristics. [Citations omitted] for example, found that students’ ideal professor was accessible,  personable, flexible, and explicit about course policies. Variables that make teachers attractive, likable, or ideal may also influence student learning, but few researchers
have evaluated this connection. We decided to conduct a comprehensive assessment of noninstructional factors that may influence learning. We defined noninstructional factors as factors not directly related to the skills of the instructor nor the subject material of the course. The personal characteristics of interest included instructors’ appearance (e.g., attractiveness, formality of dress), likability, and approachability. To assess the role of these noninstructional variables when compared to student behaviors and course design and rigor, we asked students to report on their attendance and participation,perceived course difficulty, and the class format (e.g., amount of lecture used). Challenging courses receive lower evaluations, and difficulty is likely associated with learning. Similarly, research points to the optimal course design for learning as one with multiple formats (i.e., lecture, discussion,
group work) and assignments (i.e., tests, papers.

Although we wanted to know more, in general, about students’ basic perceptions of instructors’ qualities, classroom characteristics, and their behaviors, our core research question concerned the relation between these dimensions and learning. We hypothesized that instructors’ personal qualities (e.g., appearance, approachableness, likability) would positively  correlate with and predict student learning. We also expected student (e.g., participation, attendance) and classroom (e.g., diversity of formats) variables to predict learning. Acritical question, however, was what the relative contribution of each of these variables would be.

Hat tip Stephanie West Allen.


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