Worried About Student Evaluations?

Here’s a lay article about research that indicates you can change your student perceptions in the first two seconds of the class… and that they’ll have those same perceptions for the rest of the semester.

I went and read a scholarly article by Dr. Nalini Ambady (referenced in the article above).

This article found that 10 and 15 second videos from the first day of class were enough for raters to agree with what was said about the teachers in the student evaluations at the end of the semester.

Here’s what I learned from the article:

Stand up. Sitting down is rated negatively. (Not that I would sit down on the first day of class–unless it were in exhaustion.)

Teacher effectiveness (by what criteria?) was not effected, but teacher evaluations were by:
Though they do note that it needs to be genuine.
(So I’m going to get one of my colleagues to text me jokes 1 minute before the first meeting for each class!)

The highest correlation, as far as I understood the study, was with smiles.


The second strongest was with a touch to the upper torso (so, “I’m Dr. Davis” and poke myself in the chest might work? as long as it isn’t too violent and seems natural. Maybe I need to practice till it becomes natural.)

Other things that look like they make a positive difference:
strong gestures
weak gestures (talking with hands)
nod head
have your arms be symmetrical (so gesture with both? or use them the same way?)
walk–don’t stand still–move!

The strongest negative was frowning. Do NOT frown.

The second strongest negative correlation seems to have been with touching your head. Do NOT mess with your hair or ear or anything else above the upper torso. Bad, bad, bad. (Just writing that makes me want to mess with my hair. Going to have to think of it as old politeness rules and stop it.)


That’s the advice I found. I wonder if you can change your nonverbal cues so that they stick all semester or if just having them work the first day are sufficient to shape students’ attitudes for the whole semester.

Going to definitely be looking for some jokes to tell. Maybe I can borrow self-deprecating humor from the Brits and use that joke I sent a colleague to use during the interview process?

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