Are there biases in online learning?

Story Title and Introduction – USC News *

[HED] Are there biases in online learning?

[DEK] A new study explores whether the race and gender of students in virtual spaces impact teachers’ ratings and their recommendations for educational programs.

Body text *

As remote learning becomes commonplace amid the COVID-19 pandemic, little research has explored teacher biases in these virtual spaces. But a published study led by USC Rossier Associate Professor Yasemin Copur-Gencturk now suggests that unconscious judgments by educators in an online environment can deepen inequalities.

The report, “Teacher bias in the virtual class,” is co-authored by Ian Thacker of the University of Texas at San Antonio and Joseph R. Cimpian of New York University. “Our study shows that when information is limited, implicit biases existing in society influence teachers’ judgments,” Copur-Gencturk said.

“In sum, when presented with ambiguous evidence of student learning, K-12 teachers in virtual classrooms appear to rely on stereotypes when recommending students for advanced learning. or for special education services,” the authors wrote.

Copur-Gencturk and her colleagues explored this question by conducting an experiment with more than 1,000 teachers across the United States. He asked teachers to assess each student’s mathematical abilities and recommend that the student be assessed for gifted or individualized learning programs. Although teachers saw the same set of student work in online classrooms, they were unaware that images of black and white boys and girls had been randomly assigned to the submitted student work.

The study showed that teachers did not rate identical student work differently when shown a picture of a black student or a picture of a white student. However, teachers more often recommended that boys be tested for gifted education, and they more often recommended that white students be assessed in special education programs.

The researchers also found that the racial profiles of the schools where teachers worked impacted their students’ recommendations for gifted or individualized learning programs. Black students were recommended for special education programs at a higher rate in schools with higher concentrations of black students. Gender differences were most pronounced for gifted education recommendations in schools with low concentrations of black students.

“Our findings echo the importance of reducing the ambiguity that clouds teachers’ judgment and, in turn, leads them to rely on cultural and racial biases. Teachers’ ambitious daily schedules to meet the demands of the teaching profession leaves them little or no time to get to know their students,” Copur-Gencturk said. “Allowing time in the school timetable for teachers to check in with their students and get to know them should be common practice, especially in online learning settings.”

“Teacher bias in the virtual class” is available online and appears in the December 2022 issue of the journal Computers & Education.

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