Instructors sound off on ratemyprofessors.com
Faculty view popular student site as helpful, but problematic
A Web site where students can read informal evaluations of instructors has become, at least for some students, as necessary to check before class registration as the course catalog.
Though relatively few students submit reviews to evaluate easiness, helpfulness, clarity, quality and — ahem — hotness, many students flock to ratemyprofessors.com to read the good and bad, and choose their classes based on fellow students’ responses.
But what do instructors think of the site? The Washtenaw Voice spoke with six Washtenaw Community College instructors familiar with ratemyprofessors.com to get their assessment of the popular student site.
Good, bad and in-between
Full-time Behavioral Science instructor Cassandra George-Sturges recommends the site to students and her kids.
“I always tell my kids to do it, and if a teacher is new and isn’t on there, I say don’t take ’em,” George-Sturges said while laughing. “But only if it’s in a subject you’re not good in. If you’re good in math, it doesn’t matter who the teacher is, you’re going to excel; if you know that you hate history or you’re not good in chemistry, that is when ratemyprofesssors.com
is so necessary.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Mathematics instructor Mark Batell, who teaches developmental math and algebra, believes the site has no value because it is a personality contest that can’t truly evaluate teaching style.
“It doesn’t matter if (instructors) are funny or friendly, you just have to know they’re delivering,” he said. “Students really, and I don’t mean this in a derogatory way, but students are really not in a position to know what’s good for them. Think about parenting: you don’t do what your kids want you to do, you do what’s best for them.”
It should be used more as an indication of whether an instructor might fit with a student’s learning style, suggested many instructors, including Life Sciences instructor Ross Strayer.
“A lot of students have told me they use it, and they use it as a gauge,” he said. “If a person has a lot of positive things, they think, ‘well maybe they are okay.’”
One of the main problems instructors identified with the site is that zealous students often skew the scores one way or another.
“Not often do you go there and say, ‘Well I kind of liked them,’ or ‘I thought they were okay in the classroom,’” said humanities instructor Dena Blair, who teaches public speaking and broadcast arts. “Usually there’s some strong emotions that are involved with that.”
“If a student really likes an instructor, they’ll go there, and if they really dislike an instructor, they’ll go there as a chance to dis them,” Strayer said.
And the fewer reviews there are, the more likely results will be skewed.
“These reviews don’t mean anything unless there’s a minimum number of reviews done,” said Mathematics instructor Mohammed Abella, who suggests a minimum of 20 reviews for full-time instructors and 10 for part-time instructors.
Accurate — for a student review
Most of the instructors do find their reviews to be fairly in tune with their teaching style.
“Obviously there’s always going to be some weird things on there where people are either going to crucify you or they’re going to make you seem like the God itself, but I think there’s a consistency,” said English and writing instructor Julie Kissel, who teaches developmental classes.
“It’s like a puzzle: If you put all the pieces together it’s pretty accurate,” George-Sturges said.
The ratemyprofessors.com reviews also match up well with the results of the WCC Student Opinion Questionnaires (SOQ), which the college hands out in classes during the mid-point of every semester.
“I think that’s a good measure to see there is that consistency at both a very standardized process as well as something that is very loose,” Kissel said.
Could be better
Of course, the site could be more helpful for students and instructors.
“I wish on ratemyprofessors they would ask for weaknesses,” Strayer said. “. . . It would be better if they broke it down to weaknesses and strengths. My weakness on the SOQs is I don’t talk loud enough, so I got a microphone, fixed it and it was helpful.”
“It’s an interesting tool to point out certain aspects of an instructor’s teaching style, but not necessarily a great tool to use as an overall evaluation of a teaching style,” Blair said, who added that the site would benefit from additional evaluative categories.
Some instructors do view the site as another way to get feedback on their teaching style, however.
“I appreciate all the feedback,” Kissel said. “Some teachers don’t want any feedback and want to assume that they’re doing the right thing, and if students don’t get it, it’s their problem, and that’s not always the case. Certainly students have part of the responsibility, but so do I, and I have to be able to reflect on that as well.”
Having another approach, Batell doesn’t pay attention to any kind of review system by principle.
“What we do now gets in student’s ways, and if we give them too much control, and I don’t mean this in a derogatory way, but we don’t want the lunatics running the asylum,” he said. “So I frankly never pay any attention to any of that — it would interfere with what I think is best for them.”
Alternatives to ratemyprofessors.com
Many instructors suggest visiting faculty office hours before registering for a class as an alternative or supplement to ratemyprofessors.com.
Speaking with the instructor about the course structure, expectations and assignments will give students a good impression of the course and the instructor.
“That to me, usually, would be the best way to be able to gauge for the individual student,” Blair said.
Better yet, sit in on a class, George-Sturges suggested.
“If I were a student, I would ask permission to sit in on a class,” she said. “And it’s really good to talk to the students when they’re leaving, because they’ll be honest. It would only take about 15-20 minutes of your time, but your going to spend four months of your life invested with this person.”