Beyond Implicit Bias: Cultivating Inclusive Feedback Cultures in Higher Education

Written by Explorance.

Students giving feedback

Fostering an environment of fairness and inclusivity in today’s higher education landscape appears to be an obvious imperative. Yet biases persist, often influencing course evaluations, which are crucial for assessing teaching effectiveness and enhancing student success. These evaluations shape the educational experience, underscoring the importance of addressing biases in academia.

Pete Baccile, VP of Partnerships at Explorance, recently moderated a panel titled “Feedback Culture: Mitigating Implicit Bias in Course Evaluations,” where Dr. Veronica Womack, Associate Director of Inclusive Learning Communities at Northwestern University, Dr. Joyce Chen, Professor at The Ohio State University, and Dr. Julie Schell, Assistant Vice Provost of Academic Technology at the University of Texas at Austin engaged in an insightful discussion. The panelists delved into steps institutional leaders can take toward mitigating bias in student feedback, highlighting the importance of fostering an inclusive feedback culture in higher education.

Below are four takeaways that emerged from this conversation on mitigating bias to foster more effective student feedback on teaching and learning in higher education:

But first – What Does Implicit Bias Look Like?

Implicit bias in student feedback can manifest in various ways, often unconsciously influencing perceptions and evaluations of instructors and courses. Some examples include:

  1. Gender Bias: Students may evaluate instructors differently based on gender, with women being rated lower than men for the same performance.
  2. Racial Bias: Students may attribute different levels of competence to instructors of different racial or ethnic backgrounds, leading to disparities in evaluations.
  3. Confirmation Bias: Students may focus on confirming preconceived notions about instructors, interpreting their behaviours or communication styles in ways that align with stereotypes.
  4. Cultural Bias: Students from different cultural backgrounds may have distinct expectations of teaching styles, leading to biased evaluations of instructors who do not align with their cultural norms.
  5. Language Bias: Students may perceive instructors who speak with accents or use non-standard English as less competent, resulting in unfairly negative evaluations.

“Every person enters a space with implicit and cognitive,” offered Dr. Julie Schell during the discussion. “The first step toward improving and mitigating implicit bias on campus is coming to terms with the fact that we are all biased, no matter who we are. If we can’t acknowledge that, we won’t be able to do anything to mitigate it.”

1. Beyond Consumerist Feedback: Embrace Nuances

The discussion opened with agreement from all panelists that there is a need to encourage students to provide more reflective responses about the learning and the course content. When it comes to course evaluations, it’s easy to fall into the trap of simplistic feedback – leaning towards extremes of ‘like’ or ‘dislike.’ However, such a consumerist approach fails to capture the nuanced learning experiences. A more balanced and insightful feedback culture can be cultivated by encouraging students to delve deeper into their assessments, focusing on the learning experience and course content rather than mere preferences. This shift gives instructors richer feedback and helps mitigate biases associated with specific demographic groups.

2. Recognize the Impact of Bias

Implicit bias permeates feedback channels, influencing the perceptions of instructors based on various demographic factors. Women of colour, for instance, may face unfair scrutiny in evaluations, affecting their professional trajectories. Educational leaders must acknowledge and address these biases proactively. By fostering a culture of awareness, institutions can mitigate the adverse effects of biased feedback and create a more equitable learning environment for all.

Examples were provided by Dr. Julie Schell, demonstrating how the provost’s office at the University of Texas at Austin addresses implicit bias in the course evaluation process:

  1. A video directly addressing implicit bias is the first thing students see when accessing their course evaluations in Explorance Blue.
  2. The video is also emailed to students about their evaluations.
  3. Faculty are encouraged to show the video before administering evaluations in class.

Additionally, a message on implicit bias intervention, recommended by the faculty committee, is placed before open-ended questions and provides instructions for addressing unconscious and intentional biases. This measure aims to remind and nudge students about addressing biases, especially since they are often unconscious and implicit.

3. Leveraging Technology to Navigate Bias in Feedback

In an era where qualitative data holds immense value in understanding teaching effectiveness, addressing the challenges posed by biases inherent in such feedback is crucial. “The affect or specific emotion towards instructors is captured more with qualitative feedback,” added Dr. Veronica Womack.

Leveraging AI tools like Explorance MLY to filter and categorize comments ensures that harmful or biased feedback doesn’t overshadow constructive criticism. This technological intervention and human oversight can help sift through qualitative data effectively, providing instructors with actionable insights while safeguarding against biased narratives.

Register for Explorance World 2024 to learn more about the potential of feedback analytics and AI.

4. Implement Holistic Evaluation Strategies with Human and AI

To effectively combat bias, institutions must recognize the indispensable role of human oversight in conjunction with AI technologies. While leveraging tools such as Explorance MLY is crucial for identifying bias, there remains a pervasive distrust regarding the potential for AI/ML algorithms to perpetuate embedded biases. Therefore, institutions must adopt holistic evaluation strategies beyond traditional metrics and integrate human judgment alongside technological advancements.

Initiatives such as peer observations, comprehensive course material reviews, and teaching portfolios offer a multifaceted view of an instructor’s performance, transcending the limitations of traditional evaluations.

Register for our upcoming “Feedback Culture: Redefining Teaching Excellence with Holistic Evaluation Methods” webinar on April 25th.

Addressing biases in course evaluations is not just about improving feedback mechanisms; it’s about nurturing an inclusive and equitable learning environment. By embracing innovative strategies, leveraging technology responsibly, and fostering a culture of awareness and collaboration, higher education institutions can pave the way for fairer, more effective feedback processes. As we navigate the complexities of modern education, let’s strive to uphold the principles of fairness, equity, and continuous improvement in feedback practices.

Watch the exclusive webinar on-demand now and learn how to mitigate Implicit Bias in Course Evaluations.

AICourse evaluationsExplorance MLYFeedback cultureHigher education

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