Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Legally Blind Grading, Take 5: Do Class Participation Docks and Boosts Unfairly Disadvantage Female and Minority Students?
In One Law: The Role of Legal Education in the Opening of the Legal Profession Since 1776, 44 Fla. L. Rev. 501 (1992), Paul Carrington tracks the creation of special admissions programs for minority students in the mid-1960s. He then notes that "[t]o protect against concerns of favoritism for students specially admitted, most schools adopted some form of blind grading."
Observations show that male students dominate classroom discussions, particularly in large classes, in loud classes, and in classes taught by men. During the period in which student observers recorded data about classroom participation, the student body at YLS was 47% female and 53% male....The average number of times that a male student spoke in class was 38% higher than the average number of times that a female student spoke in class (Z statistic=12.4)....That disparity was reduced by 24% (that is, the ratio of male to female participation was reduced to 1.14) in classes taught by female professors (T statistic=2.768; P value=0.007). In loud classes--classes with greater overall class participation--the gender disparity increased by 52% (T statistic=2.664; P value=0.009). In large classes--classes with more than fifty students--the disparity increased by thirty-one percentage points (T statistic=2.287; P value=0.024)....In the three (out of twenty-five) classes in which women “dominated”--that is, their overall participation outstripped that of men--they dominated to a lesser degree....Men are also more likely to volunteer to participate. On average, male students volunteered to speak 40% more than female students (Z statistic=13.17)....Because 72% of classroom interactions originate with students volunteering to speak,...the difference in the rates at which students volunteer--and/or the rates at which professors call on those who do volunteer--accounts for much of the disparity in overall participation....The data show that faculty members are more likely to "compel" men than women to speak in class by calling on those who do not volunteer. The average number of times that a male student is asked to speak without volunteering (“cold calling”) is 17% higher than the average number of times that a female student is asked to speak without volunteering (Z statistic=4.51).
First, faculty members treat comments by female students differently from comments by male students in ways that inhibit female participation in class. Much of this treatment stems from hesitation on the part of some faculty members to challenge women or to engage their ideas. Second, faculty members run their classes in ways that give more attention to students who speak more quickly and unequivocally--behaviors that are more often displayed by men than by women.
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I check my bumps every semester, and while male students definitely speak disproportionately often, they don't get participation bumps disproportionately often. I think this may be because the metric I use is not "talks in class" but rather "helps classmates learn."
Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Mar 24, 2010 10:47:30 AM
I've always found that there's a simple way to ensure diversity (in all senses of the word) in class participation - wait 5 to 10 seconds after asking a question. You have to be willing to deal with silence, but there's really nothing inherently wrong with that. The longer you wait, the more you'll have the pick of the room among students who are diverse in opinion, sex, race, and frequency of talking in the class. If you go with the first hand or two, you have problems.
Posted by: David S. Cohen | Mar 24, 2010 4:47:12 PM
in the real world, does sitting silently with good ideas in one's head help a client? does sitting silently advance one's career? how about in the academic world?
in the first class and in the syllabus, announce your rule about bumps from class participation. then follow through in the grading without a second thought. i've had no shortage of non-white-males who have spoken up and gotten bumps. why worry about exact parity?
Posted by: 68775 | Mar 24, 2010 4:49:15 PM
What justification do the authors provide for assuming that the population of Yale classes on the whole are a normal population?
Posted by: Matthew Reid Krell | Mar 24, 2010 8:20:38 PM