Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Student Evaluations of Instruction: When Are Enduring First Impressions Formed?

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Student Evaluations of Instruction: When Are Enduring First Impressions Formed?

Article excerpt

Student evaluations of instruction (SEIs) are assessment tools typically administered at the end of a university semester as a means of providing information to the instructor and the administration regarding the professor's teaching ability over the duration of the semester. The results of the SEIs can have far-reaching implications for the faculty member's academic career and potentially for the academic unit as well as the institution. An important question that needs to be answered and was the focus of the current research is at what point during the semester do students form enduring impressions of the instructor, as measured by the SEIs.

Interest in determining at what point students form lasting impressions of the instructor is not a new question. Previous researchers have examined the effect of information received before being exposed to the instructor on subsequent evaluations of the instructor. We have operationally defined this as instructor reputation. When the instructor's reputation was manipulated in the form of positive or negative primes (warm or cold) it did affect subsequent student evaluations of that instructor (Kelly, 1950; Wheeler, Wright & Frost, 2005; Widmeyer & Loy, 1988). Babad, Kaplowitz, and Darley (1999) found that positive and negative primes did affect subsequent student evaluations of the instructor early in the students' experience of the instructor, but the effect did not persist to the end of the semester evaluations. Griffin (2001) found that students' self report regarding information received regarding an instructor's reputation did affect end-of-semester evaluations of instruction. McClelland (1970) found that students' knowledge of previous student evaluations of an instructor influenced students' evaluations of instruction when they were presented at the time the students completed the evaluations. Contrary to these findings (most of which were experimental and not field-based studies), Buchert, Laws, Apperson, and Bregman (2008) found that the instructor's reputation, measured by SEIs administered before ever experiencing the instructor in the class, was not related to evaluations of the instructor at the end of the semester of instruction.

Buchert et al. (2008) also examined the influence of students' first impressions of the instructor on end-of-course SEIs. They administered SEIs after 2 weeks of exposure to the instructor and again at the end of the semester. They found a high level of agreement between the two administrations. This suggests that students make evaluations of instructors' competence based on some, though relatively brief, exposure to the instructor early in the semester that remains stable throughout the semester.

Just how brief may the exposure be for students to form lasting impressions of instructors? Ambady and Rosenthal (1992) conducted a meta-analysis of 38 studies of expressive behavior in a variety of areas in clinical and social psychology. They found that participants were able to accurately predict several psychological constructs given short exposure (thin slices) to the stimulus person's expressive behavior. In another Ambady and Rosenthal (1993) study, participants rated videotapes of nonverbal behavior of instructors. The researchers found a high correlation between independent judges' ratings and participants' assessment of the instructors' personality characteristics based on watching as little as 6 s of the videotape. Babad, Avni-Babad, and Rosenthal (2004) showed non-verbal video clips of instructors. The researchers found that, after participants viewed the first minute of class, their ratings of instructors on three psychological scales were not related to the post-course evaluations of the instructor. However, participants' ratings of the instructor after viewing a brief video (some as short as 9 s) of the instructor lecturing the class were related to the end-of-semester evaluations of instruction, especially on items related to the instructor's expressive and instructional style. …

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