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Journal of Higher Education publishes research by Randolph faculty

A prestigious publication on higher education has published an article written by Randolph College faculty members and an alumna.

“Classroom Participation and Student-Faculty Interactions: Does Gender Matter?” appears in the latest edition of the Journal of Higher Education. The article was written by psychology professors Holly Tatum and Beth Schwartz, also the Catherine E. & William E. Thoresen Chair in Social Sciences and assistant dean of the College; Peggy Schimmoeller, director of teacher education; and Nicole Perry ’06.

The article documents research the group conducted to investigate classroom dynamics in the first years that Randolph was coeducational. This was only the second study ever conducted exploring how coeducation influenced teaching styles and classroom interaction as a single-sex college transitioned to coeducation.
“We wanted to take this rare opportunity to empirically study this question,” Tatum said.

Beginning with the College’s last semester of single-sex education in 2006, the researchers spent five years attending classes and examining the way professors and students interacted. The study published in the Journal of Higher Education focuses on three years of data collected in courses for first-year students, starting with the first semester of coeducation.

Ashley Crippen Scott ’08 also helped gather data, and Carl Coffey ’11 and Alexis Mandarakas ’11 converted the observation data into spreadsheets for data analysis during Randolph’s Summer Research Program in 2009.

Like other studies, their data showed a difference between the teaching styles of male and female professors. Students were more engaged in classes taught by women. They did not discover a significant influence of student gender on the overall level of student-faculty interaction. However, the results showed that the most common form of classroom participation—students speaking up without being called on—decreased as the percentage of men in the classroom rose.

Although there were almost twice as many female students, the researchers found that males and females participated at equal rates, Tatum said.

Because this study focuses only on the data taken in the first three years of Randolph’s coeducation, it does not compare classroom participation data recorded in the semester before the coed transition to data recorded later.

”This research highlights the importance of examining classroom dynamics at the college level, and helping faculty understand how student participation changes when student and teacher gender is considered,” Shimmoeller said. “Our hope is that this study will encourage more research into factors that influence college classroom learning.”

“Being published in the Journal of Higher Education is a significant accomplishment, and I congratulate these authors from the Randolph community for this well-earned recognition,” said Carl Girelli, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College. “Their work is one example of our faculty’s strong commitment to conducting research with students and making contributions to national discussions on important topics.”


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