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It's Better to be Pretty than Smart
How do medical students form impressions of the effectiveness of classroom teachers? Rannelli L et al. Medical Education 2014;48:831-837.


Reviewed by Ginny Randall

What was the study question?
What variables do medical students use when rating the effectiveness of a classroom teacher and are these ratings modified by the physical attractiveness of the teacher?

How was the study done?
This was mixed-methods research. Forty-eight first-year medical students at the University of Calgary were asked to listen to 2-minute audioclips of 10 teachers and describe their impressions of these teachers and their teaching effectiveness. Each audioclip was accompanied by a photograph of an attractive or unattractive unrelated third party. Qualitative analysis, followed by factor analysis identified the principal components of teaching effectiveness and multiple linear regression was used to study the associations between the components, the type of photograph, and the teacher effectiveness rating.

What were the results?
Charisma (including caring, engaging, entertaining, organized, confident) and intellect (knowledgeable) were identified as the two principal components of teaching effectiveness. There was no association between the rating of intellect and teaching effectiveness. Charisma and an attractive photograph were both positively associated with teaching effectiveness and there was a significant interaction between the two (p<0.001).

What are the implications of these findings?
First-year medical students rate classroom teaching effectiveness based on the charisma and perceived physical attractiveness of the teacher and these subjective ratings of teachers are used to make promotion decisions and provide teaching awards. The physical attractiveness of the teacher may exert a subconscious influence of the students' rating of teacher effectiveness and are perhaps based on stereotypes of age and gender. Possibly teaching effectiveness should be constructed to reflect less of the physical characteristics of the teacher and more of the outcomes of the students' learning.

Editor's Note: Another interesting finding from the study was that student ratings after two minutes correlated closely with the end-of-course evaluations for the teachers whose clips were excerpted. For better or worse, it seems that first impressions tend to persist. More evidence that whatever students use to evaluate teaching effectiveness, it isn't their own learning (JG).

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