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Bias in Online Courses

A Stanford University study found biases in how instructors interact with students in online courses. In a review of 124 Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in a variety of subjects, researchers found that responses to comments vary by students' race and gender: 


Each comment was randomly assigned a student name connoting a specific race and gender. We find that instructors are 94% more likely to respond to forum posts by White male students. In contrast, we do not find general evidence of biases in student responses. However, we do find that comments placed by White females are more likely to receive a response from White female peers. 


The study is significant because it identifies teachers' potential responsibility for different student learning outcomes. In other words, it's difficult to isolate why teachers respond differently to students because the students may, for example, be less prepared or have less ability. But in this study, the issue is clearly isolated: teachers tend to favor students based on race and gender, which were randomly assigned by way of fictitious names.





  • How well do these results match your own experience as a student?
  • What are the implications of this study for instructors?
  • What potential flaws or issues do you identify with this study?
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