Friday, July 28, 2006

An article in the Chronicle today (Chronicle Careers: 7/28/2006: Let's Sue) reminded me that I have never delved fully into all my feelings about the website

Ratemyprofessor became very popular on my campus about 3 years ago after one of the secretary's sent an email out to all the freshman telling them about the site and urging them to make use of it for choosing classes. My first response was that I wanted to start an anonymous site so I could post something vile about big-mouth secretary's who don't have anything better to do with their time than go online looking for ways to make it easier for students to vilify professors. My second response was that there should be a site where professors wouldn't hand out grades along with the justification that goes along with grades, but instead could post their real thoughts about students. Like: Mary Summers - always forgets to turn her cell phone off, a real pain. Mark Taylor - A serial plagiarizer, watch out! Ben Burnett - Smart, but tends to hog office hours. I mean after all, what's good for the goose...

However, since isn't going to go away anytime soon - I have the following thoughts.

1. Check out your score. If it is good give yourself a little pat on the back and then never go back to the site without a compelling reason. It really is a waste of time, ego-stroking site, if you have good ratings.
2. If you have a bad score - take all the comments with a grain of salt. Remember, there is no safeguards on who posted those comments. It could easily be a hacked-off old girlfriend or your 12 year old nephew.
3. If you have a bad score and the comments reflect the same sentiments as real course evaluations, it might be time to sit and seriously think about how you are teaching, whether it is effective, and if there is something you can change so you can help students learn better.
4. If you have a bad score - fix it. Login and write yourself some nice comments; give yourself some nice ratings. This entire site is a bunch of bunk anyways, so don't feel guilty about abusing it.
5. If you are going on the job market, be VERY aware of what it says on about you. I admit to looking at it when we hired someone last year. I was hoping it might cut through some of the glowing recommendations letters that swear everyone is great teacher. At the same time, however, I realized that there was no guarantee that what I was reading was accurate. I knew that it would be easy for a candidate to "manage" his/her ranking if they wanted. But I looked anyways - and other hiring committees do too - so you better know what it says about you.
6. If you are going to check out the rankings of your colleagues, peers, fellow graduate students - don't spend too much time hunting them down, don't get too much glee out of it, and never do it again. Sure, maybe it will feel briefly good that the prat from graduate school who ended up on the tenure-track at an East Coast Research University (while you are adjuncting in the mid-west) is hated by his students, but reveling in those kinds of feelings really doesn't accomplish much. Instead, update your lecture notes, focus on finishing an article, and do things that really can make you a better professor.
7. There are a few pretty funny comments on the site. Some of my favorite include:
* You can't cheat in her class because no one knows the answers.
* His class was like milk, it was good for 2 weeks.
* I would have been better off using the tuition money to heat my apartment last winter.
* Emotional scarring may fade away, but that big fat F on your transcript won't.
* Evil computer science teaching robot who crushes humans for pleasure.
* Miserable professor - I wish I could sum him up without foul language.
* Instant amnesia walking into this class. I swear he breathes sleeping gas.
* BORING! But I learned there are 137 tiles on the ceiling.
* Not only is the book a better teacher, it also has a better personality.
* Teaches well, invites questions and then insults you for 20 minutes.
* He will destroy you like an academic ninja.
* Your pillow will need a pillow.
* She hates you already.

1 comment:

S.J. Redman said...

I fully admit to having looked at this site before each semester of undergraduate registration. I don't mind if there are a couple of bad comments about an instructor, because you can't please everyone, but if your comments are across the board nasty - you might not be sending the right message to students. You can be a challenging instructor without being a jerk, and students learn that quickly. The professors I avoided in school weren't the ones with the reputations for making you do a lot of reading or an excessive amount of writing - the instructors I avoided were the ones who had the reputations of being rude or unapproachable.

I'm not saying that a professor should play into a popularity contest, but being nice to your students never hurts.