“Teachers react to RateMyProfessors.com”
As published in The Daily Titan, December 2010.
With Spring 2010 class registration well under way, the popular and often controversial ranking website RateMyProfessors.com is a common stop for those picking which courses to enroll in. The website allows students to rate professors they have had based on easiness, helpfulness, clarity and attractiveness.
Although it is a place for students to make recommendations for excellent professors or warn others away from terrible ones, the professors’ standpoint on the website is one that often goes unacknowledged.
Many teachers do not find it to be a credible source of information. Others do not mind it. Most hope that students are wise enough to take the reviews with a grain of salt.
“It is a helpful resource, especially for a new college student. I wouldn’t recommend using it to determine one’s entire course schedule, but hopefully the typical college student has enough common sense to already know that,” said Melissa Bourbonnais, political science professor who received an overall rating of 4 out of 5 on the website.
With 2,931 professors listed on RateMyProfessors.com, here forthwith called RMP, and an average rating of 3.8 out of 5, the professors seem to be a bit better than middle of the road.
“It can be a useful vehicle for students to choose instructors,” said Jennifer Grover, mathematics professor with a 4.9 overall quality rating. “There is little else they can do when given a choice between instructors! This is their college experience; they are paying. I think they deserve a voice.”
Charles Royston, a Human Services professor who also has a 4.9 overall rating, receives positive reviews such as, “Professor Royston is one of the most amazing human beings I have come across. Additionally, he is one of the best teachers I have ever had.”
As a part-time lecturer, he finds that the reviews provide him with security, but also that only raving students post ratings, so the reviews on the site are nearly all extremes.
“When I read these unsolicited testimonials from former students, I experienced fulfillment and joy,” Royston said. “That makes up for the small paychecks.”
Although most teachers are aware of the website and its function, many choose to forgo reading their reviews for a number of reasons, ranging from finding themselves too thin-skinned or finding the ratings pointless.
“I made the decision when I started teaching that I would not read (Rate My Professor) reviews,” said Nathalie Carrick, professor in Child and Adolescent Studies, another teacher with a 4.9 rating. “When I was a graduate student, I read ratings of professors and found that the reviews would not be a constructive way to improve teaching styles because the reviews were mostly ‘great professor’ or ‘worst professor.'”
Irena Praitis, English and Comparative Literature professor with a 4.7 overall rating refrains from reading her reviews as well, regardless of the positive messages in them.
“Since I first heard of the website six or seven years ago, I’ve visited maybe four or five times,” Praitis said. “The visits have never had a good feeling to them because the site feels too much like a gossip site to me.”
Jennifer Yee, Asian American studies professor who has a 5.0 overall rating on the website and has been at Cal State Fullerton for two years, does not view the website either and gets reviews another way.
“I prefer not to read the website because I ask students in class: what’s working well in class? What could be better?” Yee said. “I prefer to hear directly from them what could be improved for their learning.”
Whether or not professors receive positive or negative reviews, they all insist upon having care when writing reviews and to use a more factual angle, rather than sensational.
“Thank you (students) for taking time to comment on your educational experience,” Yee said. “Please try to remember that the people you are reviewing are human too.”
The ratings on RateMyProfessor can be sorted so that viewers may list the professors in order from highest quality to lowest, department, easiness and so on. In sorting from lowest to highest quality, a list of professors with the lowest overall quality scores and highest amount of ratings appears.
Many of these professors no longer teach at Cal State Fullerton. Of those who do, none could be reached for comment on the use of the website.
Of said professors, a number of them have reviews that say things such as, “Incredibly difficult to understand and nearly impossible to reach outside of the class room (i.e. e-mail).”
“When I was checking the website regularly, I read my own critiques, of course, but I also reviewed those of my colleagues and former professors,” Bourbonnais said. “The ratings, as a whole, seemed to be fairly accurate, especially when it came to an instructor with numerous postings.”
Conversely, not all professors, or even students, agree. Rate MyProfessor is still a service to be viewed with a grain of salt.
“I looked at one of my favorite teacher’s reviews and had I read and believed some of the reviewers, I would have not had the mentor to help me become the teacher that I am,” said Jennifer Mahlke, Human Communications professor who has an overall rating of 4.9.
On the more controversial end of the spectrum, one feature of RateMyProfessor is the ability to rate a professor based on how physically attractive they are. Teachers who have at least one “hotness” rating earn a chili pepper. Teachers who have many “hotness” ratings earn a chili pepper engulfed in flames.
“I think the idea of that is creepy,” Mahlke said. She received a chili pepper on her page.
Praitis said that the hotness ratings added to the gossip-like feel of the website, and pays no attention to it.
“(They’re) not necessary or relevant, but welcome to social networking that relies on readership and the sensational,” said Jim Volz, Theatre professor who received one review that said, “How do you spell HOT? Take Volz and find out!”
The mixed reviews of the website do not end at the attractiveness ratings. In fact, the reactions to the feature are more varied than the reactions to the website as a whole.
“Obviously any forum which accords my appearance flaming-hot chili pepper status must be considered fairly reliable,” said David Freeman, history professor.
Professor Royston spoke of the way that women, more than men, have a disadvantage with the attractiveness ratings in that male students might be more apt to enroll in classes with professors who have a higher hotness rating. Although some female professors may be affected by this feature, others choose to ignore it.
“I don’t care. Good looks work to one’s advantage. Studies show that attractiveness is linked with positive student experience and perceived understandability,” Grover said. “We’re all human. I do my best as an instructor and if they call me or anyone else ‘hot’ then I say ‘thank you’ and keep teaching like a professor.”
Overall, the reaction to the chili pepper rating system is a light-hearted one. Daniel Judelson, kinesiology professor with a chili pepper rating receives reviews that say things such as, “He is a great teacher, let alone the hottest at CSUF!” and mention a bias toward his “frat boy humor.”
“I started mentioning this year that I thought my humor was a little more sophisticated than ‘frat boy humor,'” said Judelson. “If they do take (my class) because of my chili peppers, I hope they’re not disappointed! In my own education, I never once selected a course based on how good looking the professor was. I can attest to that because I had some hideous professors.”
Regardless of the reaction, many professors are aware of RateMyProblem and do read the site occasionally. Instead of ranting after the semester is over on the website, teachers urge students to put these thoughts in the Student Opinion Questionnaires (SOQs) administered toward the end of the semester in class.
“To the students that encourage other students to take my sections, thank you!” Royston said. “To the general (Rate My Professor) user, carry on.”