[We’re pleased to welcome authors Thomas M. Tripp of Washington State University, Lixin Jiang of the University of Auckland, Kristine Olson of Dixie State University, and Maja Graso of the University of Otago. They recently published an article in the Journal of Management Education entitled “The Fair Process Effect in the Classroom: Reducing the Influence of Grades on Student Evaluations of Teachers“, which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Tripp recounts the motivation for this research.]
As a justice scholar, I’ve been studying workplace and consumer revenge for some time now. As some kind of revenge “expert,” my colleagues often ask me what kinds of revenge exist in the classroom, specifically how students might get even with instructors. Before I usually can answer, faculty quickly comment that, obviously, students get even with instructors for low, “unfair” grades by giving their instructors lower scores on the end-of-course student evaluations of teaching (SET). Moreover, the same faculty lament that this effect must be large, and that there is nothing they can do about it, other than to grade more leniently. This, apparently, is the common wisdom. My coauthors, Lixin Jiang, Kristine Olson and Maja Graso, and I thought we should test this common wisdom.
We began the test first by examining what the actual correlation is between students’ grades and the SETs they complete. At my business school, we looked at every SET in every course over three years. The correlation between SET and grades (actually, the grade students expect to receive when they complete the SET at the end of the term) was only r = .22. Much smaller than common wisdom suggested. But that was just one sample, so we read the vast literate on grades and SET to find that this correlation was at the low end – typically such correlations range from .10 to as high as .47.
Given that the correlation is real, what can instructors do about it? The justice literature in the management field offered an idea. Specifically, a well-replicated finding in organizations is that employees don’t react negatively to bad and “unfair” outcomes (e.g., being denied a promotion, a lower than expected raise) as long as they perceive the decision-making processes (e.g., how management decides to give raises and promotions) to be fair. This phenomenon is known as the “fair process effect.” Given the robustness of the fair process effect in the organizational setting, we wondered if it would work in the classroom setting. Specifically, we hypothesized and tested whether students would not get even with instructors on SETs for low grades, as long as the students perceived that their instructors used fair grading processes, such as following their own syllabi, using grading rubrics, and grading blindly.
This is exactly what we found. When students perceived that their instructors used fair grading processes, the correlation between grades and SET was eliminated (in our sample); conversely, when students perceived that instructors used unfair grading processes, the correlation was amplified.
We hope this finding is useful. We think that as long as instructors use transparently fair procedures in their courses, they need not fear the grades-SET association, and therefore they need not react superficially to pressure for maintaining high teaching evaluations, such as by grading more leniently. Instead, instructors may confidently give students the grades they deserve.
Stay up-to-date with the latest research from the Journal of Management Education and sign up for email alerts today through the homepage!
Scale Photo attributed to Free-Photos (CC)