Bias in FCQ’s

Hosted by: Kellie Ferguson

FCQ’s (Faculty Course Questionnaires) are a great place to gather information about your teaching. But recent studies have revealed a significant amount of bias in student responses. In this episode, we will explore who is impacted and some strategies to help mitigate biased responses on FCQ’s. 

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download the FCQ Student Handout

Hi this is Kellie Ferguson, Instructional Designer with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning with another episode of the Cerebro Series.  Today we’ll be talking about Faculty Course Questionnaires, also known as FCQ’s, some of the issues surrounding how these questionnaires are completed, and a few things instructors can do to help mitigate these issues. 

As you may already know, FCQ’s are evaluations given at the end of the semester to give students an opportunity to evaluate an instructor’s teaching. FCQ’s involve students filling out a questionnaire in which they are often given the opportunity to respond with written comments about their experiences in the classroom. For students, FCQ’s are a chance to express their feedback to an instructor about what works and what doesn’t in their course. For instructors, FCQ’s are an opportunity to get direct feedback from students and to rework and revise their courses based on what they learn. Additionally, FCQ’s provide helpful information to an instructor’s department about their teaching. 

Clearly, FCQ’s give the opportunity to gather lots of useful info. However, over recent years, several studies have been done on the ways in which FCQ’s are completed that have shed light on a troubling amount of bias in how students respond to and rate instructor performance. What is especially worrisome about this is the importance FCQ’s play in an instructor’s professional career, impacting their salary, potential promotions, and tenure decisions.  

So, what kinds of bias have been observed in FCQ responses? Well, to begin with, there are a number of studies showing a clear gender bias—so female instructors often receive lower ratings than male instructors, even if course content is the same. Additionally, race has been shown to have an impact. Instructors of color typically receive lower ratings than white instructors. This bias is compounded when an instructor is female and a person of color—these instructors often receive the lowest ratings, again, regardless of course content or differences in teaching.  

Students bias also pops up when an instructor doesn’t match the stereotypical idea of an expert in their particular field. For instance, if a black woman is teaching an economics course (an area seen as dominated by white men) they might receive lower ratings or less positive feedback than their counterparts simply because they do not match the stereotype of what a professor in this field might look like.  

Clearly, bias in FCQ’s points to larger societal issues. But what can we do about it within the context of our courses? Given the importance of receiving student feedback on teaching practices and experiences within a course, how can we try to mitigate and hopefully eliminate bias in this situation? 

One way is to be transparent about the presence of bias in FCQ’s with students. Before giving them the chance to rate your teaching performance, first explain some of the issues surrounding FCQ’s and why they should be conscientious of the way they respond to instructors. For instance, use a handout for students that expresses how bias in FCQ’s is harmful. Studies show that a large chunk of this bias can be reduced if instructors simply talk to students about some of these issues that crop up in student responses.  

Additionally, take the time to discuss how students can respond in the most helpful way. Show them how to develop open-ended responses into more specific feedback. Ask them to focus on your teaching, the course content, and their experience in your class, and to avoid including unnecessary information, like their opinion about your appearance. Explain the importance of FCQ’s and what they are used for, and why they should be attentive to the way they are responding and rating instructors as they complete their FCQ’s.  

 CU Denver also has some resources available to help instructors communicate with students in about this issue. In the information included with this podcast, there is a link to a handout that can be given to students before they complete FCQ’s. It has an explanation of includes some of the information previously discussed: why FCQ’s are important, some of the issues of bias in student reporting, and examples of how to respond with helpful, constructive feedback to instructors.  

In sum, bias in FCQ’s is a troubling issue and can have an unfair impact on the professional advancement of certain instructors. Working to curb this bias is often as simple as discussing these issues with students ahead of time and showing them the most constructive ways to respond on FCQ’s.  

Thanks for joining me, Kellie Ferguson, as I discussed issues of bias in FCQ’s, and strategies for reducing this bias in students’ responses. Be sure to check out another insightful tidbit at The Cerebro Series. Until next time, keep those brain juices flowing.