Harvard Professor Measures Class Participation by Race, Gender

Empty college classroom

A professor at Harvard University has created an app to measure class participation by race and gender in an effort to instill equity regarding classroom engagement on the basis of demographics. The professor decided to develop the app after realizing, to his dismay, that female students participate far less than male students in his classroom.

Harvard professor Dan Levy created an app that sorts students by race and gender in an effort to measure class participation, according to a report by EdSurge. The app, Teachly, reportedly seeks to “involve students more equitably” in the classroom.

The professor said he created the app — with the help of students and university staff — after realizing that female students were only called on one-third of the time, despite making up almost half of his class.

“It was a total shock to me — I thought I was calling on them fairly,” said Levy after reviewing the spreadsheets he maintained, in which he manually recorded every interaction he had with his students. “It was a big, big moment for me.”

Now, through his Teachly app, Levy can create a profile of each student by having them input their data regarding race, gender, and other additional information that the professor has deemed relevant.

Levy’s teaching assistant is then tasked with using Teachly to record which students spoke during class, as the app still requires some manual assistance.

After class, the app produces a report displaying which students participated, and whether there are any trends with regards to engagement by race and gender, among other demographics.

Levy is not alone in his desire to sort students by their backgrounds in order to see which are more or less engaged during class, as Teachly is being used by over 75 faculty members in 100 classrooms at Harvard’s Kennedy School, according to EdSurge.

The professor mentioned that three instructors at the University of California in Irvine are also testing out the app.

The report adds that studying the differences in class participation by race and gender has been a subject of research for years, noting a 2014 study which found that less than 40 percent of female students participated in discussions during their introductory biology classes, despite making up on average 60 percent of the classroom.

It was also noted that female students are less likely to participate in class discussions if the course instructor is male.

Professor Levy, however, appears determined to necessitate equity, rather than allow for classroom engagement to naturally run its course.

“Often, faculty don’t have the tools to do something about [classroom participation equity],” said Levy. “This [app] will help faculty move toward a more inclusive classroom.”

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, on Parler at @alana, and on Instagram.


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