The Influence of Gender on University Faculty Members' Perceptions of "Good" Teaching

By Goodwin, Laura D.; Stevens, Ellen A. | Journal of Higher Education, March-April 1993 | Go to article overview

The Influence of Gender on University Faculty Members' Perceptions of "Good" Teaching


Goodwin, Laura D., Stevens, Ellen A., Journal of Higher Education


What is "good" teaching? The question has been asked numerous times and has been addressed from many different perspectives. Although there is no clearly definitive answer to the question, there are some generally accepted characteristics of "good" teachers and teaching situations: enthusiasm, knowledge of the subject area, stimulation of interest in the subject area, organization, clarity, concern and caring for students, use of higher cognitive levels in discussions and examinations, use of visual aids, encouragement of active learning and student discussion, provision of feedback, and avoidance of harsh criticism |12, 16, 22, 24, 32, 35, 40, 41, 47, 59~. This list has largely been generated from studies that explored college and university students' opinions about effective teaching, as well as from some that explored the opinions of elementary and secondary teachers. In addition to teacher characteristics, McKeachie |40~ noted almost thirty years ago how difficult it was to define and measure the appropriate outcomes of "good" teaching, and this is still a major concern and unsolved problem today.

In this study we were interested in obtaining university faculty members' views on what they perceived to be the teacher or teaching characteristics that resulted in "good" teaching and on what they perceived to be the appropriate outcomes of "good" teaching. We were especially interested in investigating the nature and extent of any relationships between the gender of the faculty respondents and perceptions about good teaching and the appropriate outcomes of good teaching.

What differences, if any, exist between male and female faculty members in their opinions about effective teaching is a timely question, and one that few researchers have investigated -- although there has been a fairly large number of publications in the last decade or so that have dealt with the status of women in academic settings and with gender differences as perceived by students. Many authors |for example, 1, 3, 26, 33, 45, 51, 58~ have noted the increase in the number of women faculty members. Lomperis |37~ provided statistics showing that women represented about one-fifth of all university faculty twenty-five years ago, and about one-third by 1990. As these and other authors have also pointed out, however, real differences continue to exist in terms of such factors as proportionate representation by discipline or field, salary, rank, part-time versus full-time employment, and type of appointment (tenure-track versus non-tenure track). Finkelstein |27~, in summarizing an extensive review of studies on female faculty, found that women tended to be segregated by discipline and by institutional type; to be disproportionately represented at lower ranks; to get promoted at a slower rate than their male colleagues; to participate less in governance and administration; and to be compensated at a rate that averaged only 85 percent of that of their male colleagues. Newell and Kuh |45~, who had conducted a fairly large national survey of professors of higher education, reported that women had generally lower academic-year salaries and heavier teaching loads than men and that they perceived more pressure to publish and were less happy with the structure of their departments. Differences such as these have led some authors to use the term "chilly" to describe the academic climate experienced by women faculty members |49, 60~.

The research on gender differences as perceived by students has produced some conflicting results. One possible reason for some of the discrepancies in this body of literature was discussed by Bennett: "Evidence for gender stereotyping and performance evaluation bias |often~ comes from studies that use quasiprojective procedures and hypothetical descriptions designed intentionally to elicit stereotypic response patterns. The evidence of such studies is mixed and occasionally conflicts with that based on direct rating techniques". …

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