CLASS BEHAVIOR AND GENDER

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Male students tend to dominate classroom discussions, studies consistently conclude. In academic environments, men are more aggressive about being called on and hold the floor for longer than women do. In response to such data, the faculty and administrators at Wheaton College are making ``an effort to make both women and men aware of how gender plays itself out in classroom interaction,'' says Sue Alexander, dean of students.

Part of this effort involves videotaping classroom discussions and calculating how much time students of each sex speak. The preliminary results of this study have been misrepresented by some people, according to Dean Alexander.

The portion of the study now completed is ``not about Wheaton; it's about the world as it comes to Wheaton,'' says Catherine Krupnick, who was hired by Wheaton to conduct the research.

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While only four freshman classes have been analyzed at this point, the few men in those classes occupied proportionately more air time. The classes were videotaped during the first few months of the academic year. ``This group of incoming freshman are still showing the effects of their high school education,'' Ms. Krupnick says.

``We are discovering something that is not at all surprising, which is that students do arrive here with gendered behavior,'' says Alexander.

A study of those same freshman students as seniors will provide a litmus test for the success of Wheaton's efforts.

Susan Rieger, a lecturer in legal studies at Mount Holyoke College and Hampshire College, questions the assumptions of these types of studies: ``I think it's questionable why we value speaking out in class so much as opposed to saying what's really important is that [students] write very intelligent, thoughtful papers.''

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