Braden: Rating Issues With “Rate My Professors”

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Birger Kollmeier Blackboard Professor Physics

Modern culture’s appetite for ranking and grading has reached an inevitable critical mass. The desire to catalog every waking moment of our lives, rate it on a five-star scale and submit a proud travelogue can only be satiated by a dependency on the experiences of others. In today’s consumer-driven market there exist review forums for nearly every product, business and service, and most of them seem to possess a complete disregard for credibility. If you are willing to make a profile (and in some cases, this isn’t even required), then you are granted access to grade any institution in any manner you please. This vulnerability is the standard, and it provides anonymous users the opportunity to dispense unsubstantiated judgments and accusations with the click of a button. The negative customer experiences that result can yield seriously adverse consequences for their unfortunate targets, and, in turn, creates sites like “Yelp,” a genuine nuisance that can’t possibly be ignored. The popular website Rate My Professors, a communal gathering of college professor reviews that allows students to award their instructors with a performance-based number rating out of five is a glaring example of this broken model.

Now, there are benefits to a free-flowing mechanism like this. A place where experienced users of a product or service express their personal sentiments does provide some intrinsic value, but I’d argue that the confidence we afford these judgments is disproportionally high compared to their actual usefulness. Indecisive about choosing a restaurant for date night? A simple internet search will produce several types of public-access ratings; all of them chock-full of anecdotal advice from complete strangers to aid in your decision making. While these cumulative ratings might provide some bits of objective information, (i.e., cleanliness, location, price etc.), most of these unbiased specifics are openly advertised by the business in question. Most consumers aren’t particularly interested in these unimaginative details, and according to a 2016 BrightLocal poll, only 12 percent of users even bother to read more than ten reviews before making a decision.

And, it’s the ratings that significantly skew the data, as those ratings intended to either praise or damn the organization is those we pay the most attention to. Because deceit is not limited exclusively to negative diatribes, perfect scores also serve to diminish the overall quality of the gross data. But, while they might not add any constructive elements to the internet review process, they can’t be indicted for any tangible consequences either. Consider the repercussions that a one-star review might have on it’s intended party. Loss of business and a tarnished reputation are very likely when one considers that this potentially fabricated customer experience will live on the internet indefinitely. Regardless of the business or product on the receiving end of this ill-fated internet transaction, the damage is incurred.

The Rate My Professors student sounding-board exhibits all the qualities found in other hapless review systems, to an alarming extent. The integrated search engine allows the student to search by interested instructor name or subject, in hopes of selecting a professor for their next course. The user can then read through posted reviews and make their personal opinion known by clicking the thumbs up, or down icons. The option to leave a personalized review is obstructed only by verifying the pertinent course number and clicking a box that ensures that the user is, in fact, a sentient being and “not a robot.” In addition to these pathetic security measures, Rate My Professors reviews are published anonymously and the site doesn’t prevent users from leaving multiple reviews for one professor or even limit the amount times a user can vote on a review. Acknowledging the existence of this unchecked capability that allows users to anonymously defame a professor’s reputation must surely be enough to delegitimize the website in the eyes of its users, right?

In fact, most of the students I spoke with on campus had an unnerving amount of confidence in the site and its authenticity. A small portion suggested that they read each review with a grain of salt and realize the potential fraudulence in some of the more extreme posts. Kim Ball, a freshman at the U, provided a refreshing response when asked about her general impression of the website; “I think it’s beneficial in that you won’t go to class completely in the dark, but I think the replies are very skewed.” Kim speculated that because of the effort involved in leaving a review, that the majority of the site’s posts must be written by either “the students who loved the professor [or] the ones who hated them.” While I realize that an appeal to skepticism concerning information found on the internet to be an obvious one, it has been my experience that this rule is forgotten more when it involves our peers. So, until a better, vetted system that still allows the freedom to write a personalized review is instituted, I’ll stick to the school’s student surveys. Overall, I give Rate My Professors one out of five stars.

12 COMMENTS

  1. I think you have completely missed the point of the rate my professor site. The site is by no means comprehensive. But it is an INVALUABLE resource when determining a schedule. It is just as invaluable as the reviews on amazon when making a purchase, and believe me you ARE making a purchase when choosing professors.

    Obviously you have to exercise prudence when reading the reviews, however the reviews can provide you with information that the Universities built in system cannot (also, it is FAR more susceptible to confirmation bias). Examples are the professors teaching methods, policies, and interaction with students. If there are thirty reviews for a professor that say something along the lines of “doesn’t teach what is in the assignments or tests at all” well then maybe there is something more to that than thirty disgruntled students. The smart student will ignore the posts that sound like angry complaining and pry valuable information out of the rest.

    From my own experiences in college (I’m old, so this isn’t my first rodeo) being able to gain some insight into the class that you are paying thousands of dollars for is worth the dive into review boards. If perhaps the University changed it’s policies and required Syllabi for courses to be posted a few weeks in advance of registration, then my tune would change. I would also change my mind if the Universities own rating system included a place to post written reviews that are immune from review from the staff. The anonymous nature of rate my professor leads to students “letting the cat out of the bag” on which professors are worth your time, money, and energy versus the ones waiting for retirement (we have all had one of these).

    When you consider the amount of time and resources going into this “investment” we call college, any amount of data about what your getting into is good data. Everything relies on how you interpret this data.

    • Hi Glen,
      I wouldn’t worry too much about this article. Every comment that is currently posted (with the exception on one poorly written one) “gets it”. The service RMP offers is invaluable. Thank you! Amie

  2. I use RateMyProfessor often, or can tell you the type of teacher they are and sometimes how they grade. This is extremely important in College because a professor can either make a class fun or absolutely ruin it. For an example my psych teacher was new to the college so I couldn’t find his profile, he ended up a complete not job who speaks to the class like idiots, believes in nonsense (such as cigarettes not causing cancer and the Las Vegas shooter was set up by terrorists), and only reads of slides that came with the text book. Many people are failing the class because he teaches us nothing, luckily I have a good grade in the class because I took a psych class when I was in, public, high school (which taught me far more than a class which cost a few thousand dollars).

  3. I agree, RMP may be in a grey area as far as extremely positive or negative reviews go. (And yes they should limit one review per student/semester.) But I think it will balance itself out eventually. Anyone can easily look for similarities in all of the reviews and guess as to what kind of teaching style the instructor has and whether that will work for them. The loss of business and tarnished reputation claim relies too heavily on RMP as a scapegoat. In some cases, the instructor needs to self-evaluate their conduct, as well as, ask themselves if they are teaching in a way that all learning styles can benefit and what they can do to improve. I’m speaking from experience here but I’ll just say this: I have found the patterns on RMP to be correct on numerous occasions for numerous professors. No one can make concrete decisions unless they ask or experience it themselves. Just as the author says a review maybe potentially fabricated, the opposite situation exists as well. This is the EXACT reason why RMP has the rebuttal system for professors who have an opposing view to a rating. My advice for them is to use it. I even had a chem professor post a fake review on his own page telling everyone how to prepare and succeed in his class. It was easy enough to tell who the author was.

  4. There are some concerning problems with this article.
    First, it is very heavy handed in terms of being against Rate my Professor (RMP). I would have taken the article more seriously if it offered a more objective opinion. This article is a well worded tirade against RMP.
    Second, If the student survey course results (SSCR) are so great, how come there wasn’t more specific information? How about something useful like how/where to access the SSCR? Again, this type of useful information was absent because the article was just a tirade.
    Third, When the SSCR are accessed, they must be searched for by the specific term and the specific class. To see all the SSCR results for any one given teacher/professor, it is time consuming at best. It requires a huge amount of hassle and time. Why not allow students to look up an instructor and have all of their SSCR show up? Then, allow the student to filter out what classes they want to look at the results for? The current system is cumbersome at best.
    Fourth, the SSCR do not post the students comments. Just stats. These are certainly better than nothing and do offer a good glimpse into the course and the instructor (separately). RMP posts comments which are helpful. If the SSCR weren’t such a royal pain and tedious to find and review, the stats alone on might suffice…
    Fifth, it is doubtful this heavily biased author did their due diligence and spent any time doing research. If there was a desire to be objective, and frankly accurate, that would have been necessary. Where was the information about actual comparisons?
    Sixth, I thought perhaps the author did do research and just got lost in the tirade; simply forgetting to mention any that had been done. I looked at several professors who were in the most rated category on RMP for both excellent, middle of the road and terrible ratings. Then, I went through the time consuming and tedious process of looking at the correlating ratings on SSCR. Guess what? They align! I tried doing a few variations and looked up the worst rated and other categories on RMP. These also aligned very well with the SSCR.
    Seventh, I will be graduating next term with a 3.9 GPA. The only instructor that was an actual bomb, was one that had no reviews on RMP; she also had no surveys because she had never taught before. She was a Master’s Degree student, as many of the teachers are. It was the worst class/experience I have had in nearly 4 years at the U of U. I knew it was a risk but I had to have the class and she was the only one teaching it. I won’t be making that mistake again. Do your own due diligence and utilize RMP and SSCR before choosing an instructor. Best of luck!

  5. What terrible writing from a professor that is obviously upset that his University can no longer silence any student who thinks he is a poor job.

    RMP might not be a perfect service but it came about as an answer to the disaster that is the horribly biased University system. Student evaluations make no difference, they rely on the professor to change their teaching style. That’s like relying on a heroine addict to monitor his drug use.

    RMP allows students to have at least some choice about their professors. It gives students the ability to spread the word about terrible professors on campus and the professors hate the site because of it.

    They would rather that the entire population be kept in the dark about the way professors teach. My University is so draconian about it that they don’t even allow students to record in the classroom.

    I would encourage this professor to worry more about the mess that is our University system before worrying about RMP.

  6. For an article that criticizes a website about its extreme bias, this article seemed along the same lines too hahah. I agree that there are definitely skewed views on Rate My Professor. The fact that there is a “hot meter” to rate the attractiveness of a professor is appalling to me. However, I have found a lot of help through reading the reviews and trying them out myself. There were various poor reviews on a specific teacher, but I thought I’d give her a try anyway. In truth, the professor was just as poor in teaching as they had all expressed and I dropped the class after a week. Sure, there is definitely bias. But we live in a world of differing opinions, too

  7. I’ve never seen a college student review. They disappear into some admins drawer. The two times I have ignored the rate my prof reviews have ended badly. I won’t sign up for classes without a review. My future career depends on me learning and not getting my GPA screwed.

  8. School student surveys? I’d gladly use those over Rate My Professor if I knew how to find them. As it is, though, RMP is the only resource I have; the only choices I have are to trust it, to some extent or another, or go in blind.

  9. The professors I learned the most from and have the most respect for had dismal scores on Ratemyprofessor. To me it seems like more of a way to rate professor’s standards; ie the higher their standards, the lower the score. The site is mostly a waste of time, useful only for those seeking a piece of paper rather than an education.

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