Chris Uggen's Blog: rate my professors

Sunday, April 02, 2006

rate my professors

i confess that i'm a closet ratemyprofessors.com reader. i like how the site exposes hidden information with a DIY grass-roots pirate-radio sensibility. plus, unlike official evaluations, ratemyprofessors is interactive: students can debate each other on the merits of their heroes and villains.

thus far, the site has gathered 5,281,715 ratings on 734,095 professors at 5,754 schools. three caveats: first, the ratings on individual professors come from small and highly selective samples. i'd guess that we hear from students at the tails of the distribution -- those who either loved us or hated us. second, i cannot endorse the idea of being rated on "easiness," since good teachers make hard work seem easy. third, false accusations or misleading information could be posted pretty easily, although it looks as though there are some ways to remove it.

finally, i have no idea whether the site has safeguards that would prevent ballot stuffing or professor self-ratings. the prospect of the latter seems really pathetic, but i can picture many unscrupulous faculty members succombing to temptation: those kids aren't fair! let's see. i'll give myself 5 for clarity, 5 for helpfulness -- no, make that 4 -- best to be realistic. uh, 3 for easiness since i don't want any slackers signing up, and i'm definitely hot. oh yeah, chili-pepper hot.

with all these caveats, ratemyprofessors likely helps students gain some basic information about the clarity and helpfulness of professors -- and the respect that they show students. sometimes the comments are more telling than the evaluations i get from my classes. think about it: wouldn't you be nicer to your profs in their written evaluations but brutally honest if writing for an audience of fellow students? here are some of the funnier ratings identified by the site. the wit and wisdom restores my faith in our undergraduates.

20 You can't cheat in her class because no one knows the answers.
19 His class was like milk, it was good for 2 weeks.
18 Houston, we have a problem. Space cadet of a teacher, isn't quite attached to earth.
17 I would have been better off using the tuition money to heat my apartment last winter.
16 Three of my friends got A's in his class and my friends are dumb.
15 Emotional scarring may fade away, but that big fat F on your transcript won't.
14 Evil computer science teaching robot who crushes humans for pleasure.
13 Miserable professor - I wish I could sum him up without foul language.
12 Instant amnesia walking into this class. I swear he breathes sleeping gas.
11 BORING! But I learned there are 137 tiles on the ceiling.
10 Not only is the book a better teacher, it also has a better personality.
9 Teaches well, invites questions and then insults you for 20 minutes.
8 This teacher was a firecracker in a pond of slithery tadpoles.
7 I learned how to hate a language I already know.
6 Very good course, because I only went to one class.
5 He will destroy you like an academic ninja.
4 Bring a pillow.
3 Your pillow will need a pillow.
2 If I was tested on her family, I would have gotten an A.
1 She hates you already.


could any of these have been written about you? i confess that the space cadet line seems awfully familiar to me. are these rankings a scourge or blessing? are there dangers i haven't mentioned? what would happen if universities routinely published all course evaluation material online?

19 Comments:

At 8:57 AM, Blogger Mike W. said...

I'm afraid that, with my limited experience, I'm not on RMP yet. I did get an opportunity to look at course evaluation forms that I was sending out a few months back, feeling for adjunct work at other local universities. I was described both as "fabulous" and one student, not knowing my income, wrote "pay the man more money." I do look forward to the day when I can have my own "hot pepper" (which is immensely more meaningful that the bimodal distribution of people who really like or really hate my classes).

I think I'm going to look up Joe Feagin and a few others; my current fixation with David Horowitz' new book leads me to imagine him being the kind of person who would tamper with a RMP rating.

 
At 1:16 PM, Blogger Drek said...

I just wish we had a site for rating our students.

"If I could have inserted a lecture into this student's iPod, things might have gone better."

 
At 7:27 PM, Blogger tina said...

I'm all for putting student evaluations on the web. Are there any arguments against it? (you know, other than "I don't want them to know I suck")

 
At 11:10 PM, Anonymous chris said...

aw, mike. i don't think any sociologist would tamper -- i was talking about those from less scrupulous disciplines.

i've seen a few sites devoted to drek's idea-- some funny, some snarky, and some just plain imperious. that said, here's the story i'd report: i once asked a struggling social statistics student whether she had trouble with the text. she replied, "i'm not the type of person who sits down and reads a book." oh, ok. glad we cleared that up.

i'm with tina, though. i started putting all my evaluation data on my CV. i'm not sure that anyone outside my department really cares, but it makes me feel better about investing in teaching. whenever i see somebody's CV i'm always curious about how much they actually teach and whether they do a halfway decent job at it.

 
At 12:04 PM, Blogger Mike Shanahan said...

Ode to a Chili Pepper

Oh! I have wanted a chili pepper so! but gravity is starting to take hold.
They tell me that,chili pepper or no,
I still have worth; so they have told.

 
At 10:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have tampered with RMP, but not for me - for junior / adjunct faculty who are getting a bum rap from students who just want to heap on the hate (because they were caught cheating, were lazy, or are just a bit crazy). The self-selection bias is a big problem with RMP - plus, it is not too hard to figure out who posted what (if one had smaller classes). On the other hand, I did get a chili pepper (albeit a sympathy one from a student who heard me talking about my friend the economist who had 8 chili peppers).

 
At 11:14 PM, Anonymous chris said...

hey mike, nice ode. i'm down on gravity too. but can you do it in a haiku?

i'm glad that anonymous fessed up to "tampering," since i'm more likely to believe the self-report data than the official statistics on such matters. the rationale sounds like the old appeal to higher loyalties technique. congrats on the chili pepper. still, i'll bet it wasn't a pity pepper after all...

 
At 11:56 PM, Anonymous Fiona said...

Check out the Chronicle of Higher Education forums, at chronicle/com.jobs.
A month or two ago, someone did (as a lark) put up a whole raft of positive RMP ratings for a colleague. Then, excited by the whole thing, she spent all Sunday afternoon putting up fabulous reviews on RMP for professors she didn't know. She even gave them chili peppers, if she liked their names.

Another woman's husband gives her a chili pepper every year on her birthday.

 
At 9:47 AM, Blogger Mike W. said...

The infamous MySpace has "Professor Grading" now too. I decided to look at our department, again, and I imagine that it's easy to discern between "real" grades and "tampered" values given by others.

The "real" scores, from MySpace anyway, gave A+ to the professors, with comments like this: "Real easy. So much extra credit that I didn't have to take the final exam." The other comments for this professor all pointed to the ease of the class.

If that's the dividing line, I'm going to be more cynical of RMP than I was a few days ago.

Doesn't make me want a chili pepper any less, tho'.

 
At 10:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what? chili pepper? where? when? Can I mix it with beans and carne molida? About these students' evaluations: I am all for putting everything open, for all the world to see, as long as the writers sign them up. By letting the students get away with saying whatever comes to their minds, heedless of consequences, we are teaching them that, as long as you don't get caught, you can a) say anything, b) put somebody else in a bad spot, and c) have a professor you don't like (for several and any reasons) not get tenure, be fired, etc. By the way, I am signing up anonymous here, just in case my students read this and have ME fired!

 
At 9:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, if students signed their names that would be fine. But this is an easy way for some people to annonymously show retribution against professors who try to hold them accountable for learning. My university is involved in an on-going lawsuit and sites like these make us easy targets for angry students who don't want to hear that they can't call someone else's work their own.

 
At 10:28 PM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

yup. it was a wise superhero who said, 'with great freedom comes great responsibility..."

 
At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love ratemyprofessor.com it gives me the oppertunity to have an idea what the professor is going to be like and how he teaches. There are a few teachers that I have had that are very smart, but do not know how to explain themselves or are completly hipacritical and not organized at all. I pay good money for teachers to teach well and help me understand the material, this website allows me to choose them and I am very thankful for that, since I have discovered this website, I have informed many people and I have enjoyed my classes a lot more and I have learned a lot more!!

 
At 7:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Drek,

There is a site to rate your students: rateyourstudents.blogspot.com

And here's a great site to rate student apartments: ratemyapartments.com

 
At 9:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read all of the above with great interest because I am a student who posts on that website. You are right, of course. The students who post are a small sample, and tend to be quite polarized (love or hate, not much in between). Sometimes you can tell when an angry student has posted repeatedly. I see personal attacks, I see ethnic attacks, I see false accusations.

Fortunately, I also see some very positive posts, and some constructive criticism.

As a student, I do a couple of things on this website:

(1) I try to bring a sense of balance and fairness to the listings of professors that I know, by posting comments that are actually useful. No professor is a good match to every student, no matter how good he is. My professors are not perfect. A comment I will make, for example, is something like "If you are looking for an easy A, take someone else. In this class you will have to work for your grade. But if you are really trying, he will work with you and help you."

Students who want the easy A will go elsewhere, but other students have told me things like: "I read that post and I said to myself 'That is the teacher for me! I want someone who will really teach me!'"

The same post will discourage some (the "tourists") and attract others (the serious students).

(2) The other thing I do as a student is look for the abusive posts, the ones that insult the teacher on a personal level or attack his/her ethnicity. I flag those posts and send them, back for review. Sometimes they get deleted, other times the abusive comments get deleted. (The way I look at it, there's a huge difference between "This teacher does not explain things clearly" and "This $@#$ is a %$@* %@#*% and should %#@*$"... you get the idea... If you can't express it without the personal attack, you deserve to have your post deleted.)

By and large, I take what I read on the website with a grain of salt, and I ask other students for their opinions. I may hear negative things, but when I do, I always ask why they say that. That gives me a better (more balanced) picture, I think.

If I was a teacher, I think I would want to say to my students: "If you think I suck as a teacher, don't just tell me I suck. Tell me why, so maybe I can do something about it."

All in all, there are many of us students out there who have a great deal of respect and admiration and even affection for our teachers. Not all of us post. Keep that in mind. Most of us won't even tell you how highly we think of you, because it won't even occur to us that teachjers want / need feedback. But we're out there. Remember that.

Sorry about the superlong rambling post... That's just how I am, on topics that matter to me.

Oh, and about those chili peppers... just so you know, I personally have given professors chili peppers only to have them NOT show up on the count, so I KNOW the chili pepper counter doesn't always work right. So just because you don't see any, that doesn't mean you didn't get any. And even if you didn't get any, that doesn't mean your students don't think you're hot. Sometimes we just don't tell you. ;)

 
At 3:05 AM, Blogger newstudent said...

As a student, my college gives me no voice. I have no opportunity to rate my professors unless they voluntarily ask for feedback. I believe that each student should be able to submit an assessment of their teacher, and class content, at the end of their completed class, per their verified registration. Why wouldn't a college want to know that its staff are meeting requirements, students (read:parents) are getting what they pay for, and both quality teachers and problem ones are being revealed? In addition, I am a taxpayer, and my professors are embedded in a publicly-funded system, yet I have no input into the performance of positions that I technically fund. Rate My Professors allows me to discuss quality teachers and my good experiences, and to find some guidance in the workings of my individual school, which is especially valuable for new students.

 
At 12:51 PM, Blogger Holding High Standards for Distance Education said...

Boy would I love a place to comment back! While the positive ones may come from any number of students, I can pretty much name who posts the negative comments. They are usually the ones who spend very little time in class (do they know that most of us can tell how many minutes they spend in the course?), don't read the syllabus and think WE make up the attendance and participation rules and those who just don't have the work ethic to get the job done. Here's a message for them: paying for the degree does not guarantee you will get it...even online! You have to work hard and not everyone can or will succeed! If it were easy everyone would have that slip of paper. Do the work and while it may feel good momentarily to trash your professor, you will still have to do the work someday! I know each of the universities I work with support the high standards we hold and know that these students will not represent the school well since they will not or can not do the work. So, they go to the site and vent. I can see why...it feels good. But at the end of the day I know I did a good job. Can they say the same? Hey, thanks for listening. :)

 
At 5:42 PM, Blogger Chris11 said...

I've heard students say things like this website gives them a "voice". However, students (who enroll in and attend classes) are almost always asked anonymously to evaluate courses at the end of a term. (If they aren't given this opportunity, something is WRONG.) These evaluations are limitted, however: you can only turn in one per course, and you can only do it if you actually took the course and showed up on the last day.

From what I can tell, looking at how Rate My Professor represents my teachers, the site attracks lazy, boring students who ought to go hitchiking across Europe or wait tables for a year instead of taking up financial aid enrolling in classes they either never bother to attend or aren't intellectually prepared enough to engage.

On RMP, a single disgruntled student can repeatedly post, altering his or her whining complaints in small enough ways to get past the sleeping monitor.

One way to make it fair would be this: students making postings would have to register using their school email address. The address would of course not be published, but at least the absolute anonymity (which does not promote responsible discourse) would be eliminated.

 
At 10:34 PM, Blogger freestudentedu said...

There are many websites these days who are using similar concepts. There is this really awesome site that offers professor ratings along with a lot of other things that students really look for. The site is all free and offers great services. Check it out if you like the idea of ONE STOP SHOP.

 

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