I came across this article the other day, thanks to Shawn Calhoun of Gleeson Library. I thought of it as relevant these days because registration is coming up.
Students often ask me for recommendations on professors, and the truth is I try to steer as far away from recommending one faculty member over another, preferring to share that I am familiar with the faculty member only socially and he/she has been lovely to connect with. On the other hand, if it’s a faculty member I have heard nothing positive about, I’m more likely to refrain from sharing second hand remarks, suggesting that the student talk to his/her peers to get perspective. If I happen to know the faculty member again, socially, I’ll mention that as well.
It gets tricky because you know students are biased and have opinions about faculty that are based on personal experiences and expectations that are or are not met. Expecting an A but getting a C is a tough, and if given the opportunity to respond, sometimes people will go there. When I happened to peruse RateMyProfessor.com, I saw a lot of this, the anger of expectations dashed to the ground – but I also saw reviews that were glowingly positive and some were just really random. Whenever using review sites, it helps to remember frame of mind and critically think about the reasons why people say the things they say. Same goes for reviews on Yelp, right? Clearly someone with an axe to grind has a wonderful forum on which to do just that. Everything with a grain of salt.
What matters is that you do your due diligence and learn as much as you can about the faculty and the kind of course before you commit to registering for it. Even if you’re not sure, it may be worth it to give it a go anyway and commit yourself to learning as much as possible. While negative reviews on Yelp might steer you away from a restaurant, have you ever been to a restaurant, thoroughly enjoyed the experience then were surprised to see low reviews when you got home? It happens – that people are steered by negative reviews, but you should think for yourself and maybe even give things the benefit of the doubt. You never know what you will learn (pun intended) from the experience.
If you’re interested in RateMyProfessor.com check out:
Gonyea, N., & Gangi, J. (2012). Reining in student comments: A model for categorizing and studying online comments. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education (37)1. pp. 45-55.
Otto, J., Sanford, Jr., D. A., & Ross, D. (2008). Does RateMyProfessor.com really rate my professor? Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education (33)4. pp. 355-368.
I think that life presents us with people we don’t always like at first glance, whether it be at the bus stop or on the job, but that can’t preclude us from trying to make it work. I’ve been the student in classes where the faculty member was prickly and students were turned off. I happened to catch her in between classes during one of her famous smoke breaks (this was when it was okay to smoke outside buildings on campus), and we connected over the material and shared a laugh. After that, I learned to see her differently, and learned the hard way that first impressions are just that – first impressions. If you let first impressions get in the way, you’re going to have a hard time not just in that class, but in life.
So before you go on RateMyProfessor.com be sure to think about not just what you’re reading, but who the person is that’s both writing the review and the person who the review is about. Be critical.
Good luck with registration!