No matter the degree, college is expensive. Many students share the fear that they will be wasting money on a course that is unhelpful or frustrating. Since 2000, Rate My Professors, a website where students can post reviews of professors and universities, has attempted to help students choose a course which fits their learning style. Of course, as with any site in which reviews are anonymous, there is opportunity for abuse. While some professors see value in an accessible reviewing site, they question its validity.
“I just go there to see what people have to say once and a while,” said Paul Burkett, a professor in the Indiana State department of economics. “Sometimes you get a good laugh out of it, too, you know.”
Burkett’s profile on Rate My Professor has an above-average rating, although his reviews are strongly polarized. Some students praise the course as informative, while others say its difficulty makes it inaccessible. Such profiles, in which a professor has only negative and positive reviews, are seen with frequency on the website.
Burkett sees this lack of middle ground as an issue. “What you see, is that you get a lot of extremes,” he said. “You see the students who really like you — they’ll write a lot. And the students who really hate you write a lot but people who are in the middle they don’t usually say much.”
Burkett also sees the site as a potential source of misinformation. “People will say things that are simply not true,” he said. “I have had people say I’m not available during my office times or that I’m rude to everybody and it’s simply not true.”
Marilyn Bisch, a professor in the Languages, Literatures, and linguistic department and the Honors Program, also feels like the site has its extremities, but acknowledges it as a potentially useful tool.
“I think it’s a good thing for students to have a better feel — both positive and negative — about who they’re going to encounter as professors,” Bisch said. “I think that if you read through any kind of evaluations you balance the ups and downs and get a general picture. Now, on the negative side, I suppose it could get out of hand and you could really hurt somebody. But that can happen anywhere, on any kind of social media or on any part of the Internet or applications.”
For students concerned about their courses and who are distrusting of anonymous rating websites, Burkett recommends requesting syllabi from professors as a way of assessing course content.
While Burkett is skeptical about the website, it has helped him a couple of times. “I have gotten some points from them once in a while if I fall into a bad habit of some kind when I deliver the lecture,” he said.
Although the website may not always be the most unbiased, Bisch sees such evaluations as useful for both students and professors.
“I think it can be hurtful, but I don’t know of any instances where it has been hurtful,” Bisch said. “We’re evaluated all the time as teachers and that’s for a reason. We appreciate it and we use it to make our own teaching better.”