The uses and abuses of ratemyprofessors.com

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Shots fired

Shots fired

What do profs think about the all-knowing Oracle?

Article: Liam Fitz-Gerald – Contributor

[dropcaps round=”no”]Y[/dropcaps]ou can bet when students go to register for classes, they’ll be scouring ratemyprofessors.com to learn who their professors are, their expectations for the course, the amount of reading that the professors expect (or lack thereof), and (for a minority) who has a little chilli pepper indicating attractiveness.

Ratemyprof has, at times (in personal experience), been accurate and allowed preparation for any potential frustrations with a professor. If a prof has a reputation for being unclear on assignments then it empowers one to visit the prof and ask for clarity. Usually, the professor is delighted to talk to the student about the assignment and may clarify any problems. If someone on ratemyprofessors.com is complaining about a prof being unclear, it is impossible to know if they actually visited the professor or took initiative to improve their situation.

Fourth-year history major Bailey Titanich admits that she has looked at ratemyprofessors.com before to make decisions on professions.

“If all the reviews on a professor are terrible, I’ll go with someone else. If the reviews are mixed though, I’ll look more carefully at the various reviews and make a decision from there.”

Titanich admits that she finds the chili pepper element “intriguing,” but it is not the reason she takes the course.

Several U of R profs shared their opinion on ratemyprofessors.com. Kathleen Wall, an English professor, confesses she has mixed feelings on it.

“On the one hand, I think that it can give you a reasonable glimpse of a professor that there is a certain kind of truth behind students reactions, if you’re not using it for one class.”

Wall maintains that students using ratemyprofessors.com should look at more than just one class that may have a negative review and investigate how long the professor has been rated for.

Wall’s mixed feelings come from research that shows a correlation between high marks and high ratings.

“The profs can and even may give higher marks just because they know they will be publicly dissed if they don’t,” she said.

F. Volker Greifenhagen, Academic Dean and professor of Religious Studies at Luther College, while admitting that he does not visit ratemyprofessors.com, also finds problems with the site in how the prof is evaluated and the methods behind it.

“Professors get really good ratings if their course is considered easy and if they’re considered attractive. It seems to be that neither of those have anything to do with whether you learn anything in a course or not.”

Despite his wariness with ratemyprofessors.com, Greifenhagen doesn’t think it should necessarily be ignored, but “balanced judiciously” with other sources like classroom evaluations. He admits, however, it is problematic that the student evaluations aren’t public in the same way as ratemyprofessors.com.

Raymond Blake, the Department Head of History, while maintaining that the issues mentioned above are a concern, takes a more positive view of the site.

“I think we talk an awful lot about engagement and empowering students, and ratemyprof is one where students have power in terms of rating their professors. I would say if we depended only on ratemyprof, we would be doing a service to the people we instruct, but clearly it is a place where students can voice their opinions in a relatively safe environment,” Blake says.

“Sure people use this as a tool to judge whether they should take this course or not, but we do that when we buy a car or stay in a motel, so I don’t think that is a reason to condemn it.”

Martin Hewson, a professor of Political Science, shares this view.

“It’s a good idea to use the internet to get ratings of all kinds of people–Plumbers, mechanics for your car. People rate restaurants don’t they? That’s a good thing about the internet. You can draw upon wisdom of crowds, and I don’t see why that shouldn’t apply to professors too.”

He thinks maintaining that overall is a good thing.

Hewson did, however, take some sampling issues with ratemyprofessor.

“The people who go there to the ratings are not necessarily representative samples of all the students who have done the classes, so it’s probably true that its more skewed to the ones who really didn’t like that prof or ones who did like that prof and the people in the middle probably don’t feel strong enough to use the website.”

Despite the concerns over ratemyprof, it is clear that it is a tool that can help students make decisions in times of increasing tuition and commitments. As aforementioned, just balance it with other sources.

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