Gendered teaching in classrooms

… Check out this interactive chart!

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An interactive chart in the US that has started to gain a lot of attention on social media recently has produced some interesting insights of a gendered nature. Male lecturers emerge as brilliant, awesome and knowledgeable while women lecturers are bossy and annoying, beautiful or ugly. By using 14 million teacher reviews from, Northeastern University history professor Ben Schmidt has created a data visualization that allows its users to explore words used to describe male and female teachers. Simply by just typing any word into the box, the chart rearranges to display how often the word is used and in which subject areas. Many of the results are quite striking in the way they illustrate gendered language and gendered biases which has – no surprise! – caused some robust discussion on social media. Schmidt, who is core faculty member of the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks, explained the visualization is going viral is because people have a lot of strong ideas about what words to search for.

“I have a lot more people coming to me with questions about it rather than just looking at it and moving on,” he said. “They spend more time with it as well as pass it along, and that’s been really interesting because it gives them something to contextualize.”

Schmidt made the chart as a part of the Bookworm Project, which attempts to visualize large collections of text. It took about two months to download all of the data, which was done one professor at a time through a script on Schmidt’s computer. The most common word people first search for seems to be “smart,” which is used about 30 percent more in male reviews than female. Adjectives reflecting even higher levels of intelligence showed even more bias; Schmidt found that men were more than twice as likely be called “brilliant” or “genius” than women. He also noted that students tended to describe women as both “helpful” or “unhelpful’ more often than they did the men. And male professors garnered more mentions of “smart” and “stupid” than women did. Schmidt commented:

“That’s interesting because it shows it’s not really about, in some ways, the quality of the individual people being graded, but it’s about the way that classrooms are being structured that seem to make it so that women are being assessed on a slightly different set of characteristics than men”

Take a loot at the chart here (see the link below) …. and try out a few search terms. Try funny, smart or good-looking to start with! It’s a gendered data adventure not to be missed! And somewhat depressing, given the oh so familiar findings!

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