Can students trust sites like RateMyProfessor?
With the end of semester fast approaching, now is the time that many students are frantically registering for next semester’s courses. As such, many of those same students will turn to websites such as RateMyProfessor.com when it comes to choosing courses based on the instructor.
Mount Royal University places great emphasis on students’ feedback. That is one of the reasons why each semester, students are asked to fill out surveys and comment sheets evaluating their professors and the quality of their instruction. This feedback is taken very seriously by the institution and is used to inform decisions such as whether or not an instructor is successful in achieving tenure. However, those instructor evaluations are handled in such a way that respects both the privacy of the professor and the privacy of the students. Online testimonial sites, like RateMyProfessor.com on the other hand, are not.
Websites like RateMyProfessor are popular for students because it seemingly allows them to choose courses based on the quality of instructor. But relying on largely unregulated sites like RateMyProfessor is dangerous because the information on the site can be quite unreliable.
Because RateMyProfessor is so unregulated, reviews must be taken with a grain of salt.
Study.com, an online hub for accessing higher-education resources, cautions against putting full faith into sites like RateMyProfessor.
“In some cases, students may rate a professor poorly due to personal dislike rather than an objective evaluation of his or her teaching skills. Students are even able to post multiple ratings and comments from different computers or by using different email addresses, which lets them skew the ratings. There are certain students who don’t hold themselves accountable for their class performance, and they are most likely the ones who will post negative ratings.”
Along the same lines, graduate student Nicholas Subtirelu of Georgia State University conducted a study that found that instructors with Asian-sounding last names were more likely to receive lower scores in “helpfulness” and “clarity” than instructors with more American sounding last names.
In addition to arbitrary ratings, it is typical that students will only rate if they have had an exceptionally negative experience with a professor — related to academics or not. In fact, a quick glance over Mount Royal’s instructor ratings sees that the lowest-rated instructors have only one or two ratings each. This makes an instructor look bad publicly based on only one or two students’ experiences out of the hundreds that the instructor is likely to have taught. Let’s face it, are we really considering how many comments are given to each instructor? The answer to that is most likely no.
But there are some benefits to using RateMyProfessor to inform course selections.
“Maybe you’re someone that needs a little extra help,” said Alexandria Farmer, senior lab instructor, who is among the highest rated instructors at Mount Royal. “Choosing a prof that you hear is more helpful than others might be a big benefit.”
But again, Farmer cautions students against trusting these reviews blindly.
“I can see where (instructors) who are perhaps more rigid are penalized in a un-warranted way.”
Ultimately, tools like RateMyProfessor can be helpful when determining schedules; but, it is important to keep in mind that anyone can rate an instructor. In the same way that Wikipedia should not be a source for your term paper, RateMyProfessor shouldn’t be your only basis of judgement when it comes to choosing classes based on the instructor.