Review site’s benefits outweigh its shortcomings

Bo Gemmell

It’s happened to me every semester since Fall 2006. A few weeks into the semester, I’ll hear students begin to whine about that awful professor who insists on ruining their lives. As a senior at Kent State, I can honestly tell these complainers that I’ve never voluntarily taken a class with a bad professor.

I owe this to RateMyProfessors.com, an online godsend surpassing YouTube, Wikipedia and Craigslist in usefulness.

This Web site is without question a strategic tool for the smart consumer. Remember, higher education is an enormous business requiring huge investments by its customers.

As an in-state student, a semester’s tuition costs me about $3,000 after one decent scholarship. That pans out to nearly $200 per credit hour.

If I take the time to read product reviews for an electronic device on BestBuy.com that costs a couple hundred dollars, I’d be an idiot not to read the reviews of a professor whose service costs $600 for a three-hour course.

While you could rely on friends’ suggestions of professors, RateMyProfessors offers a far more comprehensive rating system with more than 8 million posted opinions. The reviewers rate professors on a 1-5 scale describing clarity, helpfulness, easiness and the reviewers’ interest in the course prior to taking it. It even has a “Hotness Total” for those more interested in looks than learning.

RateMyProfessors doesn’t come without its faults. Viewers need to consider that perhaps only students with extreme views of professors would devote the time to praise or criticize them via this online rating system.

These extremes were reflected in a random Kent State professor’s ratings. The professor, whom I never had a course with, currently has four different ratings and an average overall quality rating of 3.2.

One reviewer’s comment read: “This man is THE DEVIL! AVOID AT ALL COSTS!” and “TRUST ME! HE HATES YOU ALREADY!” Another reviewer posted a comment about a month later reading, “One of the best professors I had. Thought provoking, challenging, and fair. Course content was excellent.”

Another fault with the site is that anybody can create an account and rate a professor. “Anybody,” of course, includes the actual professor, the professor’s disgruntled ex-spouse or even some random nerd in New Mexico who’s never met the professor but just loves his or her book on squirrel psychology.

I’m not the only person concerned with bias in the site’s ratings. Inside Higher Ed, an online publication that covers a variety of college and university issues, reported the findings of researchers at the University of Maine who compared the ratings on the site to the formal student evaluations issued at the end of the course. They found that the ratings on the site had a “significant correlation with the formal student evaluations on the questions about the overall quality of the course and the relative difficulty or ease of the course.” That’s good enough for me.

Despite its setbacks, RateMyProfessors is an invaluable tool for all college students. If you choose not to use it, don’t complain to me when the November withdrawal deadline grows near and you want to drop that overbearing professor’s course.

Bo Gemmell is a senior magazine journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]