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Professor Evaluations: Are You a Satisfied Customer?

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Nine times out of ten, when I make a purchase at a store the bottom of my register receipt offers a phone number I can call or a website I can visit to participate in a customer satisfaction survey. The last few times I’ve had to call the cable company or the bank, I was asked if I’d be willing to answer a few short questions to rate the representative I just spoke with. It seems as if every company out there wants to know how they’re doing. It makes sense, then, that students should be given the opportunity to rate their experiences with their professors. After all, they’re paying tuition to learn from these people, right?

Accuracy of Instructor Evaluations

Instructor evaluations are supposed to serve as a method for schools to receive legitimate reviews from students on the quality of professors, but it seems as if the focus of these evaluations has switched from feedback on the professor’s instructional methods and whether or not the student learned what they were expecting to learn to whether or not the student “liked” the professor as a person and the experience of being in their class.

We’ve all had teachers that we didn’t like for one reason or another, regardless of how much we learned in their class. You know what I’m talking about. I had professors in college that talked too much; others barely said hello. Some professors were always late to class and kept everyone else late to make up for their own tardiness, and I made sure to indicate this in my evaluation at the end of the semester. But did I learn from them? Well, yes.

On June 9, 2010, Mary Beth Marklein of USA Today wrote about a recent study by the Journal of Political Economy which suggests that less-experienced, less-credentialed Calculus instructors — whose students tended to do better in the short-term but worse in later classes — received higher ratings on student evaluations than more seasoned, Ph.D-holding professors. For example, an instructor who ranked dead last in the use of certain effective teaching methods in the study ranked sixth best in student evaluations. In other words, good student evaluations reward ineffective teaching.

I never studied calculus in college, but I’d guess that the findings of the study are probably relatively accurate in most subject areas. Last summer, I enrolled in graphic design classes and the majority of the students in my classes were young women in their early twenties. Most of them seemed enthralled with one of our teachers, a good-looking guy in his thirties who didn’t seem to care if people talked all through class, talked on the phone, or ate lunch in the room. I was in the minority, because I wished he would actually ask people to be quiet when they got extremely loud—everyone else always talked about how “cool” he was because he’d let us “do whatever we wanted” during class.

Did I learn from him? Of course, but I feel that things could have been handled a bit better in the classroom. Did I offer my opinions on the teacher evaluation at the end of class? Yes, I did, but I have no idea if my opinions and the opinions of others had any effect on things at the school.

Rate Your Professors Online

Until recently, the only ways that students could learn about professors before signing up for a course was through word of mouth—after all, the evaluations done on campus are for the use of the school and students don’t learn the results.

Thanks to newly emerging sites like RateMyProfessors, students can leave anonymous evaluations of their professors so others can “learn” about them while selecting classes. Critics of the site—and those like it—wonder about the quality of today’s college students if they are attempting to pick and choose professors based on anonymous reviews that often favor “easy” instructors and courses. After all, how reliable can these reviews actually be?

I was wondering for myself, so I looked up a few of my old professors—ones I liked and ones I disliked. For the most part, I found the reviews to be accurate. Other students complained about the instructors that never shut up and the ones who kept everyone late because they were late. My favorite professors – ones that I can honestly say I learned a lot from – also received similar remarks from others.

This was just my own miniature survey, so I can’t claim whether or not an online professor review site is accurate … but how accurate are the paper evaluations handed out at the end of the semester? Just as an angry student who received a failing grade for a course can bash a professor online, a student that was ticked off for getting a C on a term paper when they felt they deserved an A can write up a nasty review on paper.

A 2010 survey by the test preparation company Kaplan claimed that professor rating sites “have the unintended effect of penalizing tough graders by promoting professors who are easier on GPAs.” The survey found that 46 percent of students who used the site chose a course based on the easy grading reputation of a professor.

Based on the remarks I found online, most instructors don’t have concerns with professor rating sites, but the majority of them hope that students form their own honest opinions of their classroom experience rather than rely on the opinions expressed by others.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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