Image: An empty lecture hall, seats in the foreground. Image courtesy of Kai Schreiber, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Two years ago we published Gender, Confidence, and Who Gets to Be an Expert, which covered some of the research on why women are less likely to volunteer for the “expert” role and are sanctioned more for doing so. How has it held up to new research on the college classroom? 

According to analysis of 95 hours of observation across several disciplines at one elite school, men still speak more than women in the college classroom. Specifically, men speak 1.6 times more than women, including being more likely to interrupt or offer prolonged comments. Men are also more likely to speak assertively, whereas women are more likely to be hesitant or apologetic. These findings parallel what Michaela Musto found in middle-school classrooms in her flagship journal article.
The gender gap in participation doesn’t just stem from women being less likely to volunteer in front of a large lecture hall, it is also present in activities designed to elicit participation from underrepresented groups and assist learning. A new  study of introductory biology classrooms found that within a course built around active participation exercises, including group work, small-group discussion, clicker questions, and other structured activities, men still participated more than women in six out of seven categories of participation. 

We don’t know yet whether the shift in modalities from the covid-19 pandemic will ultimately shift gendered patterns of participation in college courses. Some writing suggests that the same inequalities are present in Zoom as in in-person meetings, while other writing is more optimistic that tools like the chat function will raise the percentage of female student participation. 

In general, nothing much has changed. Men still speak and participate more — demonstrating that the “chilly climate” of college classrooms still matters for how we think about gender inequality in education.