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Students Rating Professors: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

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Ever since the dawn of the modern university system, college professors have been granted the right to rate their students’ performance and academic prowess on homework, class assignments, and, most importantly, on end-of-term report cards. Although many universities allow students the right to “rate” their instructors on department-issued evaluation questionnaires, the whole process is usually shrouded in secrecy.

Not anymore. Today, a new generation of college students has taken the bull by the horns, as it were, and turned the time-honored tradition of secretive student evaluations upside down. Using the power of the Internet, dozens of websites such as RateMyProfessor.com have allowed millions of mostly-anonymous posters to bypass the secrecy of the Xeroxed student evaluation questionnaire and tell their fellow students what they really think.

Report Card 2.0 or Biased Beauty Pageant?

For many college students, the online professor-rating phenomenon has been a welcome change. Just by browsing the rankings at one of these popular sites, you can find out everything you ever wanted to know – and maybe some things you didn’t – about your current or future profs. Generally, the ratings are broken down into several categories, such as Easiness, Helpfulness, Clarity, and Interest. Users can leave their own narrative comments, too, many of which go into hilarious detail.

Perhaps not surprisingly, not everybody is a fan of the professor rating sites. Professors and university administrators have pointed out that many of the assumptions underlying the sites’ rating system are flawed – for example, if you’re looking to get as much from your college experience as possible, should you really be basing your course selection on whether other students have described a class as being easy? Other critics have noted that instructors described as physically attractive tend to have much higher ratings than their average-looking colleagues, calling the impartiality of the rating process into question.

Take a Look — but Take it with a Grain of Salt

Bottom line? There’s something to be said for the idea of using the power of the Web to pick your professors based on input from your fellow students. At the same time – and you’ve probably already figured this out on your own – some of your fellow students are likely to be, er, not so bright. So feel free to browse through the rankings at your favorite professor ranking site, if only for some laughs. But don’t let the sites be the only source you consult when signing up for next semester’s courses.

Here are a few more tips to help you get the most out of the professor-ranking websites:

• Check out several different sites. There are dozens out there, so be sure to pick a cross-section of them to make sure your results aren’t skewed.

• Consider the source. Pay the most attention to reviews that are calm, rational, fair, and well-written.

• Get both sides of the story. Some of the professor-ranking websites are now allowing professors to chime in with rebuttals.

Have you read or written a review on a professor-ranking website? Have you used them to decide which courses you should take? What’s your stance on the issue? Let us know in the comments.

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