April 23rd, 2009

RateMyProfessors.com: More Honest than 'Official' Ratings?


It doesn’t look as though the RateMyProfessors.com website is going away anytime soon. I was somewhat surprised to learn that it was actually launched in 1999.

As of January 2009 (according to the source cited below), this free website that allows students to rate their professors had 6.8 million ratings for more than 1 million instructors from over 6,000 colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, and Wales. Those are impressive numbers.

The authors of the article (reference below, noteworthy because two of the authors were undergraduates when the research was conducted) surveyed 110 students and found that 83 percent reported they had visited the RateMyProfessor site, 36 percent had rated an instructor, and 71 percent said that the ratings viewed there caused them to avoid taking courses with certain instructors.

A bit more surprising were the 58 percent who reported that they believed students were more honest in their RateMyProfessor evaluations, compared with the 8 percent who reported that they believed that students were more honest in the institutionally sponsored end-of-course ratings. Almost 50 percent thought that RateMyProfessor evaluations were more representative than the “official” end-of-course ratings.

It’s easy to respond with dismay. There are so many issues with the website—nothing ensures the representativeness of the sample who evaluate and offer comments, nothing prevents a students with serious grudges from making multiple entries, and nothing prevents a professor from countering with self-authored reports filled with glowing accolades.

It’s easy to raise our hands in righteous protest, but the site offers students information they can’t get elsewhere. At most institutions, rating results are not made public. Do students have the right to know that certain courses have consistently garnered poor/excellent ratings? What about parents who now pay dearly for college courses? What about you? Are you willing to pay for a course known not to offer particularly good learning experiences for most students? It’s a Pandora’s Box filled with vexing, multi-sided issues. I’m not sure it’s worth opening … but then do we really have a choice?

Reference: Brown, M. J., Baillie, M., and Fraser, S. (2009). Rating Ratemyprofessors.com: A comparison of online and official student evaluations of teaching. College Teaching, 57 (2), 89-92.