Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Students' Perceptions of Their Classroom Participation and Instructor as a Function of Gender and Context

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Students' Perceptions of Their Classroom Participation and Instructor as a Function of Gender and Context

Article excerpt

The purpose of the present study was to explore the influence of individual and contextual factors on students' assessments of their own participation in the university classroom and of their professor's classroom behaviors. Classroom participation is considered by both female and male students to be one of the factors related to effective learning and to result in more positive views of the learning experience (Sadker & Sadker, 1994). Perceptions of the overall amount, the form of student participation, and students' general activity level were examined in the present study. Differences in the form of student participation are important, because certain types of participation are expected to be more responsible for students' impressions of the university classroom (e.g., more intrusive styles such as interrupting), to contribute more to effective learning and positive experiences (e.g., length of exchange), and to be more likely to demonstrate gender differences. Cornelius, Gray, and Constantinople (1990) an d others (e.g., Fassinger, 1995a, 1995b) have emphasized that student participation is determined by multiple factors and, unless multiple factors are examined, the nature of student-faculty interaction in the college classroom will most likely be misrepresented. The contextual factors considered in the present study were class size, class composition in terms of gender balance, discipline, gender of the instructor, and specific instructor behaviors that encourage participation. In addition, the individual factors of student gender, age, and students' perceived level of general activity in the university classroom were examined, as well as students' perceptions of a number of specific student behaviors.

This research is informed by a series of studies dealing with the "chilly climate" construct (Hall & Sandler, 1982, 1984; Sandler & Hall, 1986). The term applies to the aggregated impact of a host of micro inequities and forms of systemic discrimination that disadvantage women in academic environments. Examples include: the sexist use of language; presentation of stereotypic, disparaging views of women; differential interaction patterns of professors as a function of student gender; paucity of women faculty as role models and mentors; and gender-based differential attributions. Although some investigators have failed to find evidence of the operation of the construct (Crawford & MacLeod, 1990; Heller, Puff, & Mills, 1985; Howard & Henney, 1998; Howard, Short, & Clark, 1996; Strenta, Elliott, Adair, Matier, & Scott, 1994), documentation supporting the existence of a chilly climate has been reported by a number of other researchers (Canada & Pringle, 1995; Janz & Pyke, 2000; Pyke, 1997; Sands, 1998; Seagram, Go uld, & Pyke, 1998; Stalker & Prentice, 1998; The Chilly Collective, 1995; Williams, 1990). Pascarella et al. (1997), for example, found modest support "for the hypothesis that a perceived chilly campus climate can, in fact, have negative implications for women's cognitive growth" (p. 123). In an extension of this work, Whitt, Edison, Pascarella, Nora and Terenzini (1999) obtained corroborating results.

Yet another consequence of the effect of a chilly climate may be a reduced propensity on the part of women students to participate in the university classroom. Several investigators have specifically explored the relevance of the chilly climate construct as an explanation for gender differences in classroom participation. Fassinger (1995a, 1995b), based on a questionnaire survey administered to students and professors in 51 classes, concludes that male students are more likely to participate in classes than females and that the participation of female students is affected by the emotional climate of the classroom and their level of confidence. These results are not inconsistent with the chilly climate interpretation of women's academic experiences. Contrary to expectation, however, was the finding that faculty traits, including gender, had no significant effect on class participation. …

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