Students deserve to know about professors

Students deserve to know about professors

by Madison Hopkins

Choosing one’s own schedule, classes and professors is one of the benefits of the collegiate lifestyle. However, with thousands of options, and generally little guidance, it can be a daunting task. Looking at San Diego State’s WebPortal or the course catalog can give students some basic information, but how are students supposed to know what a class is actually like from a list of random professors’ names and a vague paragraph of the overall intent of the class? If you’re like any normal college student, you probably go to Ratemyprofessors.com.

For the few who don’t know, Ratemyprofessors.com is an online forum allowing students to anonymously rate professors on scales of helpfulness, easiness, clarity and “hotness.” Whenever possible, I have used the site to select which professors and classes have been recommended by past students before deciding which courses I think will be compatible with my learning style.

Although sometimes this means just finding easy classes, other times it has helped me find teachers I felt I would work well with. In my two years at SDSU, this site aided me in meeting the professors who I believe have had the most profound impact on my college career. I would even go as far as to credit a significant amount of my academic success to this site.

With that being said, things could be better. Ratemyprofessors.com offers an uncensored review of the quality of professors, a fact that is both a blessing and a curse. The information provided is useful to students only because currently there is no better option. According to the website, more than 4 million students visit the site each month to read reviews of 8,000 schools. However, a study done in 2009 by Appalachian State University professors Elizabeth Davison and Jammie Price found that less than one-third of these users actually post reviews. This means the majority of students are taking advice from the minority—a minority that is most likely not an accurate sampling from an entire class, but rather those who have either intensely negative or positive feelings toward the professor. Average students may not feel strongly enough to take the time to give feedback to stabilize the extremes, leaving the results of such reviews unfairly skewed.

As with any scientific study, the larger the sample, the more accurate the findings will be. So while students appreciate the limited information Ratemyprofessors.com provides, the voluntary nature of the reviews will forever leave it subpar to an alternative with greater participation. As of right now, such an alternative does not exist, but the possibility for one does.

At the end of each semester, students are required to fill out a faculty evaluation of each professor before they are allowed to see their final grades. Students are asked to rank professors on a variety of topics regarding the class and are given the opportunity to write comments. This information is then given to department heads, administrators and the professor to help evaluate the course’s effectiveness and make appropriate changes to the curriculum.

While this all sounds incredibly helpful for the faculty, I can’t help but notice how we seem to be missing out on a huge opportunity to make this information doubly beneficial. If these evaluations were released to the students they could make informed decisions based on accurate information. Currently, the evaluations are kept confidential. However, with flawed ratings available on sites such as Ratemyprofessors.com, releasing this data is an easy way to standardize the measurement of reviews and hold professors accountable for their own response to the criticism.

Political science professor Edward Heck finds the official faculty evaluations to be helpful in updating his curriculum, and believes it could be beneficial for students to get a better grasp of the tone and style of each class.

“I believe it would be more helpful to students if there were a way to release the open comments rather than the score,” he said.

Understanding your own preferred method of learning and finding professors with compatible teaching styles could allow some students to earn better grades. Even though releasing this information to the public will clearly shed unfavorable light on some professors, total participation will disperse the results enough to separate the real problems from the disgruntled extremes. The more information students have before the first day of classes, the more prepared they will be to find academic success. The information is there, so there is no reason not to use it.

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