It’s here. The enrollment period has begun. Now, after all the honor students, athletes, and seniors got their pick of courses, it has opened up to the general college populace. As you sit there in front of your computer (or paper and pencil if you go to one of those colleges), you have many decisions to make. Deciding what class to take? Psha! That’s child’s play. Half the time your classes are decided for you by your course catalog.
No, there are much more important questions to ponder when you’re enrolling in a class. Should I take the dreaded 8 o’clock class and get it over with? Stick with an afternoon schedule to sleep in? Take Differential Equations and Thermodynamics in the same semester back-to-back? All fair questions.
But the real question you want to know is what professor to take. Who teaches that class, and what does everyone say about him? Is he a strict grader? Does she take attendance? Does she ramble off topic? That’s when you turn over to ratemyprofessors.com and look him up, hoping to your preferred higher power that it’s a good rating because his class is the only one still open. But can that website lead you astray?
Ratemyprofessors.com started in 1999 under the name TeacherRatings.com. It is the largest online destination for professor ratings. So it is safe to assume that you’ll find a rating for most professors on there. But what about its accuracy? A study conducted at the University of Maine attempted to find an answer to that question. Using data from 426 instructors at the university, they compared their ratemyprofessors.com ratings with the ratings found in course evaluations students complete in class towards the end of the semester.
The results were interesting to look at, as it showed that the ratings on the website weren’t too far off from the ratings on the course evaluations. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the website ratings are accurate. For all we know, both sources give an inaccurate depiction of a particular college professor’s ranking. Plus, there was enough variance (basically unanswered questions and other stuff the researchers couldn’t predict) that kept the findings from being fully conclusive.
Still, this gives us some insight into the usefulness of ratemyprofessors.com. My verdict? I think it is a useful tool if you are using it for the right reason. Let me repeat that for emphasis. For the right reason. The biggest mistake I see students make with that website is they look at the score for a group of professors, then take the one with the highest score. Others, it scares me to admit, pick their professor based on their hotness score! “But Roland,” you might tell me. “Who are you to judge my decision process for choosing a professor? What if I want some eye candy to keep me focused?” Well that’s fine and dandy, my hypothetical friend, but it is those same students who come complaining to me at the end of the semester about their professor and write bad evaluations because they didn’t do the proper research beforehand.
When I was in college, the most useful part of ratemyprofessors.com was the written reviews by the students. I didn’t even bother with the scores. The review gave me a much better idea of what I could expect. And a rule of thumb was to avoid a review that was only one or two short sentences long. I read reviews that gave details to support their arguments. Perhaps their reason for disliking a professor was a great reason for me to like them. I prefer, for example, no-nonsense professors who stick by the syllabus and lay everything out at the beginning. Someone who prefers a care-free professor who changes things up throughout the year might review such a professor poorly. In that sense, I believe the website is worth your time.
My biggest criticism of the website, as I’m sure is the case for many others, has been that students not liking a professor are more likely to publicly display their opinions online, therefore negatively skewing the results for a professor. Some quick research into this, however, says this is not the case. The website itself claims that over half the ratings are positive. And to look at a less biased source, the study I referenced above suggests that the ratings aren’t too far off from course evaluation ratings. So unless students submitting course evaluations tend to make it a habit to slam their professors, I don’t think the website is doing too bad of a job on that.
So long story short, ratemyprofessors.com is a fine website to utilize when trying to decide on a professor to take. It may not be as helpful if you’re just looking at the score, or if it’s the only professor offering that particular course. Looking at their feedback then would give you an unfavorable bias before starting the class, and you don’t want to start a class with bad mojo. Sometimes it’s just best to go into a class blind and hope for the best.