Course characteristics and college students' ratings of their teachers: What we know and what we don't

Abstract

From showing in a general way that there is “room” for course context to influence class (average) ratings of instruction, this review proceeds to a search for specific course characteristics that are associated with these ratings. Extant research has centered around five such characteristics: class size, course level, the “electivity” of the course, the particular subject matter of the course, and the time of day that the course is held. Although statistically significant zero-order relationships do not appear in every piece of research located for review, such relationships are more likely to be found than not for the first four of these characteristics. The associations may not be particularly strong, but rather clear-cut patterns do emerge. Of the studies reporting an association between size of class and class ratings, most find it to be inverse, although several studies show a curvilinear (U-shaped) relationship. Teacher (and course) ratings tend to be somewhat higher for upper division courses and elective courses. Compared to other instructors, those teaching humanities, fine arts, and languages tend to receive somewhat higher ratings. The possible reasons for these relationships are many and complex. A precise understanding of the contribution of course characteristics to the ratings of teachers (and the courses themselves) is hampered by two circumstances. Studies in which relevant variables are controlled are far fewer in number than are the studies in which only the zero-order relationships between course characteristics and ratings are considered. More importantly, existing multivariate studies tend to underplay or ignore the exact place of course characteristics in a causal network of variables.

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Feldman, K.A. Course characteristics and college students' ratings of their teachers: What we know and what we don't. Res High Educ 9, 199–242 (1978). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00976997

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Key words

  • evaluation of college teachers
  • course evaluation
  • student ratings
  • course characteristics
  • bias in ratings