With the new semester soon approaching, millions of student around the United States are registering for their next semester's classes. Which means it's time, once again, for students to spend hours scouring RateMyProfessors.com.
The site enables users who have taken or are currently taking a certain professor’s course to post a rating and review of any professor whom is already listed on the site. In addition, users may create a listing for any individual not already listed. To be posted, a rater must rate the professor on a 1-5 scale in the following categories: "easiness", "helpfulness", "clarity", the rater's "interest" in the class prior to taking it, and the degree of "textbook use" in the course. The rater may also rate the professor on their hotness, and may include comments of up to max 350 characters.
Despite the site's polarity, here is little reason to think that the ratings accurately reflect the quality of the professors rated. Also, "easiness", "clarity" and "helpfulness" are the only components taken into consideration. Furthermore, single individuals are able to make multiple separate ratings of a single professor on RateMyProfessor. While RateMyProfessor does not allow multiple ratings from any one IP address, it has no control over raters who use several different computers. In addition, there is no way of knowing that those who rate a professor's course have actually taken the course in question, making it possible for professors to rate themselves and each other.
Even more troubling, though, is the widespread conflating of "a good professor" with "an easy professor." In his study titled, A Fractal Thinker Looks at Student Ratings, Edward Nuhfer, Director of Faculty Development at California State University at Channel Islands, says that both Pickaprof.com and RateMyProfessors.com "are transparently obvious in their advocacy that describes a 'good teacher' as an easy grader." A study of RateMyProfessor ratings conducted at Central Michigan University, confirmed Nufter's suspicions, finding that "the hotter and easier professors are, the more likely they’ll get rated as a good teacher. "
Student evaluations of professors from RateMyProfessors.com actually accounts for 17.5% of a schools rating in Forbes annual “America’s Best Colleges Listing.” When some expressed disappointment over the fact that a site like RateMyProfessor played such a large role in the listing, Forbes defended itself stating, "Asking students what they think about their courses is akin to what some agencies like Consumers Report or J.D. Power and Associate do when they provide information on various goods or services."
Since mtvU took over the website in 2007, RateMyProfessors.com has added a rebuttal feature which allows professors to rebut students' comments. Professors must register with the website, using an .edu e-mail address, in order to make their rebuttals. The site also has a feature called "Professors Strike Back" which features videos of professors responding to specific ratings that they received on RateMyProfessors.
As students ourselves, we often conduct an internal debate over whether we should choose professors according to their "easiness" rating or whether we should chose a professor who is challenging but from whom we might actually learn. We are mindful of the fact that with ratings being largely submitted by students, there is no doubt that some disgruntled lazy students take their anger over their well deserved poor grade out on a professor that actually expected them to expend some effort. So it's worth asking: Do sites like ratemyprofessors.com aid in stunting our intellectual growth and actually make us dumber?