Random name generator study finds no bias in clasrooms

Contrary to expectations, study finds teachers don't pick boys more than girls. But using a computer to call on students boosted attendance and class participation.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

According to a study last year, boys and girls sitting in the same classroom, reading the same books and listening to the same teachers, receive different educations. To address this inequity, researchers developed a hand-held device that randomly selects students to be called on in class. The Random Name Generator not only eliminates teacher bias when calling on students but was also found to increase participation, discussion and attention in class, reports eSchool News.

After hearing a report about how boys are called on more than girls in class, researcher Paige Allison who is also a high school math teacher and educational anthropologist student at the Universityof Florida, realized that she was also guilty of calling on more boys than girls. She decided to incorporate gender bias research as part of her dissertation.

"The idea of this was to give everyone the same opportunity and not to treat anybody differently," she said. In the course of her research, she found that "not only were students engaging in behaviors that contribute to success, but teachers found they were more patient [and] engaged in more probing activities."

Her research used a handheld computer with Microsoft Excel, which randomly selected students' names. But contrary to expectations, her research found that there was no significant difference between the experimental technique and the traditional way that teachers selected students. The experiment did have some unexpected outcomes. Students were more likely to show up for class and they participated more. Students were allowed to pass on the question without a penalty.

"There is real, although subtle, intimidation that takes place in the classroom, reinforcing the idea that women and minority students cannot do math as well as white male students," Allison said. "Research has shown that teachers not only tend to call on white male students more frequently than other students, but they respond to their questions and requests for help differently and provide them with entirely different experiences in the classroom."
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