RateMyProfessors is a useful tool, as long as it isn’t the only factor deciding course enrolment
Screenshot of the RateMyProfessors website.
As the fall semester approaches, many students are attempting to figure out what courses they are going to take next. For many of us, this problem extends beyond looking at degree requirements and course descriptions.
As popular courses are usually offered at different times by different professors, it becomes more complicated to try and figure out what course and professor would be the best fit for you. Enter RateMyProfessors.
Founded in 1999, RateMyProfessors is no new player in the game. It has become a staple in how we pick our courses, and a chance for us to give an honest opinion about our experience in a specific course.
That, together with the fact that RateMyProfessor has a collection of over 19 million ratings of 1.7 million professors and 7 500 schools, makes it very hard to ignore the opinions out there that you can listen to about how a course went for someone else. It seems like the ultimate tool. But is it always reliable?
The first gut reaction is no, obviously not. Online reviews are not guaranteed to be accurate 100 per cent of the time. This is not only speaking for RateMyProfessors, but any online rating system.
That added with the fact that they had the chilli pepper rating up on the site until 2018 which (very problematically) reviewed professors ‘hotness’, it’s hard to see RateMyProfessors as anything other than an outdated gimmick.
However, in our consumerist society it’s easy to allow sites like RateMyProfessors to blur the lines between academia and simply receiving a service. At the end of the day, we are paying for our education, and so we want to know we are investing our money well, and paying attention to reviews is the easiest way to try and guarantee that.
In his 2016 article, “What makes an online consumer review trustworthy?“, Raffaele Filieri suggests that as consumers we see reviews that are extremely positive, or overly negative as untrustworthy.
This means that as students, when we go onto RateMyProfessors, we tend to trust the reviews that rate profs around 3/5 for quality. If the rating is too low in a review or too high, us students can get suspicious. For all we know the professor might be attempting to raise their overall scores themselves.
Even when a professor has an all-around good rating (above 4/5 for quality), they still might not be the right fit for your needs as a student. The only way to find that out is to take their class.
I myself am guilty of selecting specific courses because the professor’s quality rating was high and their difficulty level was low. While this has worked out sometimes, other times I find myself either not really learning anything because the course wasn’t challenging, or that the professor was completely different from their reviews.
This means that although I have RateMyProfessors as an option to help me choose what courses I take, at the end of the day it’s still a gamble whether or not I’m going to do well with that professor.
This doesn’t mean that you should disregard RateMyProfessors entirely, there are useful components added to many ratings like whether the textbook is required, and if attendance is actually mandatory. These two components alone aid a lot of people in knowing whether or not the course is right for them.
So, while students should not base their entire schedule around how well the professors stack up on RateMyProfessors, they should still look into what other students have to say about the course to add some useful information into their decision. Or even look up ratings after the course is over to feel solidarity over how hard a course was, and to get some laughs in about the rage people have when they write reviews.