The availability heuristic in the classroom: How soliciting more criticism can boost your course ratings

How changing a couple of features can enhance course evaluations.

Abstract (Via SJDM)

This paper extends previous research showing that experienced difficulty of recall can influence evaluative judgments (e.g., Winkielman & Schwarz, 2001) to a field study of university students rating a course. Students completed a mid-course evaluation form in which they were asked to list either 2 ways in which the course could be improved (a relatively easy task) or 10 ways in which the course could be improved (a relatively difficult task). Respondents who had been asked for 10 critical comments subsequently rated the course more favorably than respondents who had been asked for 2 critical comments. An internal analysis suggests that the number of critiques solicited provides a frame against which accessibility of instances is evaluated. The paper concludes with a discussion of implications of the present results and possible directions for future research.

Introduction (Via Fox @ UCLA)

According to Tversky and Kahneman’s (1973) availability heuristic, people sometimes judge the frequency of events in the world by the ease with which examples come to mind. This process has generally been demonstrated by asking participants to assess the relative likelihood of two categories in which instances of the first category are more difficult to recall than instances of the second category, despite the fact that instances of the first category are more common in the world.

Schwarz et al. (1991) observed that the classic studies demonstrating the availability heuristic failed to distinguish an interpretation based on ease of retrieval from an alternative interpretation based on content of retrieval in which an event is judged more common when a larger number of examples come to mind.

Additional Excerpt (Via Fox @ UCLA)

The present investigation demonstrates that a minor variation in the format of course evaluation forms-in this case, changing a single word (“two” to “ten”) and changing the number of spaces provided for responses-can have a pronounced effect on global course evaluations that are made on a familiar rating scale.

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28. July 2009 by Miguel Barbosa
Categories: Behavioral Economics, Curated Readings | Leave a comment

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