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Student Evaluations of Instruction: When are Enduring First Impressions Formed?

Laws, Apperson, Buchert, and Bregman (2010) wrote an article in the North American Journal of Psychology on undergraduate students’ perceptions of their psychology professors in order to see if student evaluation scores on the professor and the class as a whole were determined at the outset of the class (day 1 and week 1 vs end of the semester evaluation scores).

They concluded that students form a perception about the professor on the first night of class that remains true through the end of the semester.

There are several issues with this article however.

To name just a few as examples:

In their method section, Laws et al. writes that they have 384 undergraduates from 14 psychology courses participating. With this information, they fail to go into greater depth. For example, are some of those undergraduates enrolled in multiple psychology courses and therefore the same person is filling out evaluations on the different psychology professors? Are the psychology professors teaching multiple courses? Also, the method section never discusses what time of day the class meets, how often the courses meet during a week and for how long the classes are (i.e. a class that meets at 10am three times a week for 50 minutes may be different from a class that meets at 6pm once a week for three hours, even though the information given is the same and taught by the same professor).

Also, this study doesn’t generalize to others, since it is only data from psychology courses and presumably at one university (as it’s never mentioned that the undergrads come from multiple universities). Therefore, the scores only apply to those psychology students at that university, since universities and even other colleges within a university could have different cultures and therefore score differently.

To top this all off, the authors state that their big conclusion is that students form perceptions of the professor that remain true through the end of the semester. In other words, students judge the prof on the first day of class and at the end of the semester score the professor in a very similar way. This issue with this is that they don’t account for professor consistency. That is, a professor on night one may teach the exact same way the during the whole semester and so since the teaching style is the same, the first night of class perception is the same as at the end of the semester.

A better study would be to see if a professor taught in a certain way on night 1 and if they changed their teaching style dramatically and then saw if the students still rated the professor the same way.