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RateMyProfessors: Creating reputations one teacher at a time

By Kelly Nickele
On April 18, 2014

When registration rolls around every semester, students from 7,000 colleges rely on a controversial system called RateMyProfessors, a website that permits students to state their opinions about certain professors.

Students have the power to rate the overall quality, helpfulness, clarity, easiness, and interest level prior to attending class, textbook use, average grade and even hotness on RateMyProfessors. Professors are then given an overall rating between one and five, with one signifying mostly bad ratings and five signifying mostly good ratings.

Currently, 14 million ratings have been added and 1.3 million professors have used this website. 2,065 Miami University professors have been rated and its overall rating is a 3.72.

Gary Shulman, a Miami communications professor, has never been rated on the site and said he does not see the site as a reliable tool for students.

"You should not base your scheduling decisions solely on information from unknown and probably biased sources," Shulman said.

Sophomore Brooklyn Petty uses RateMyProfessors and said she thinks it is a helpful resource.

"I like to look at ratings because I like to be able to select three or four teachers that I would be comfortable with having so that when I schedule, I have multiple back up plans," Petty said.

However, Petty said, although she uses RateMyProfessor, she realizes it can put students at a disadvantage since the website is based purely on opinion and may not adequately reflect the professor. Yet, Petty said she believes this website gives students a general idea of what a certain professor is like.

Sophomore Bryan Porter said the website could be useful but is also likely biased.

"I think these websites can give insights on teachers that potential students would not know about such as teaching style, difficulty and personality," Porter said. "Sometimes students may give poor remarks because they received a grade they didn't want."

Although Porter said he believes RateMyProfessors can be beneficial to students, he refuses to use the website. Instead, he said he prefers to use Miami University's grade distributions.

These grade distributions are alphabetically categorized by class and date back to fall 1999. They can be found on the Office of the Registrar website.

Another factor that plays into a website like RateMyProfessors is the negativity and unfavorable comments that students post. Such comments may affect a professor's attitude in class by lowering their self-esteem.

Because of this, some professors may choose to refrain from reading their ratings.

"I have not read my ratings on RateMyProfessors," Shulman said. "They might be helpful to students to a limited extent insofar as it provides some information, which may be better than no information. The problem is that it is not truly representative information because most students don't post to that site."

Shulman said these ratings seem like movie reviews.

"Interesting to read, but unless you know how your taste compares to the reviewer you can't really depend on the information to be accurate," Shulman said.

Perhaps a more accurate way to analyze a professor is through the use of course evaluations.

Petty has completed course evaluations throughout her time at Miami and said she has been completely honest in filling out the evaluations. Porter has completed approximately 10 evaluations and said he gave time and care on those he strongly about. On others, he has simply skimmed through.

Shulman said he believes Miami's course evaluations are helpful to faculty since they deliver feedback from students that guide them to improvements in future classes, and can prove more effective than RateMyProfessors.

"The more students who respond, the greater the accuracy," Shulman said. "The response rate under the new online evaluation system is low and therefore the results may be no more reliable than RateMyProfessors."

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