Rating (studying, really) Ratemyprofessors.com

Via Clancy’s blog, I came across this colorfully titled article, “‘He Will Crush You Like an Academic Ninja!’: Exploring Teacher Rating on Ratemyprofessor.com,” which is in the current version of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. As the title implies, this is a study of how students use the infamous professor evaluation site, Ratemyprofessor.com.

It’s a problematic study for a variety of different reasons that the authors themselves acknowledge (for example, the focus group participants were all at one school), but it’s still kind of interesting reading, I thought. Here’s one long quote summarizing the answers to a focus group question about what motivates students to post ratings in the first place that kind of sums up my own doubts about Ratemyprofessor.com:

One theme that emerged when discussing posting practices was the notion of posting a comment about a professor only if the students really liked or really disliked the professor. “I only post when I have a really strong opinion of a teacher, either really good or really bad,” one student reported. In other words, neutral feelings about a professor did not motivate students to post. Students felt reporting about these specific instances would be most useful for other students. Particularly in the case of “bad” professors, other students could be warned about that teacher and the class itself. This finding confirms what Ahmadi et al. (2001) found; that is, students write specific comments for only exceptionally good or bad professors.

Besides posting to pass along important information to other students, several of the students mentioned revenge or venting. If they had a bad experience in a certain class with a certain professor, posting to the site was their way passing along information, but also of “getting back” at that instructor. For example, one student shared her reason for posting. “I do it so people won’t take that professor, but I think it’s more my revenge in a way. It’s my way of getting back at them.”

One of the results of this “love ’em/hate ’em” rating motivation is, ultimately, very few ratings. I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of students since I’ve been at EMU, and on ratemyprofessor.com, there’s a grand total of eight reviews. And there’s no way of telling if these students rating my class really were former students, either. And so forth.

Can you tell I don’t care much for ratemyprofessor.com?

I do think it’s kind of an interestingly difficult thing to study though….

I've been beaten to the punch at Ivan

I’m still in “vacation mode” because the in-laws are here and my wife and I just returned from a getaway to Niagara Falls— oops! too much information for Ivan “the worst ‘not his real name’ name ever” Tribble, at least according to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Bloggers Need Not Apply.”

Jeff, Jenny, Collin, KF at Planned Obsolescence, and many others have already said what needs to be said, so I’ll just add a few more thoughts:

  • Tribble does have a point in that there are a lot of bloggers out there, academic and otherwise, who are not as aware of the potential downfalls of their vast and unintended audience as they perhaps ought to be. Lots of people have lost their jobs as a result of their blogs, and it is probably true that others have been passed over for jobs because of their blogging. Of course, most of the academic blogs I know of that share a bit too much– ah… problematic “personal” information– are anonymous anyway (and I’ve certainly complained about the problems I have with anonymous academic blogging in the past). So, assuming that the anonymous academic blogger applying for a job isn’t going to be promoting his or her anonymous blog in a cover letter or on a campus visit, Tribble et al could have easily hired the exact kind of blogger he and his colleagues were trying to avoid and not even know it.
  • I don’t know what field Tribble is in (though I must say that he sure sounds like a pretty old-timey/traditional Literature– with a capital “L”– kind of guy to me), but in my field, I’m pretty sure that we’d look quite favorably on a candidate who kept a blog. Many of the folks I list as comp/rhet bloggers are doctoral students or newly minted Ph.Ds, and I’m betting that they’ll land decent jobs.
  • Finally, Tribble reminds me of one final piece of unsolicited advice I’d like to offer in my role as The Happy Academic: while the academic job market is extremely tight, always remember that job candidates have to evaluate the people who are doing the hiring, too. Afterall, there is a decent enough chance that you will have to spend the rest of your working life with these people, so you had better have a sense of what they’re like. I have had MLA interviews with a variety of different schools where, about half-way through that half hour sitting in a hotel room someplace, I thought to myself “there is no way I would be willing to work with you people.” I freely admit that it’s perhaps a bit too easy for me to say this now that I’m happy and tenured, but I guess what I’m getting at is I’m pretty sure that Tribble and his colleagues at “a small liberal arts college in the Midwest” wouldn’t want to hire me, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to work with them.

Update:
Here’s a link to the newsgroup style discussion about all this on the Chronicle site. I stumbled across it while looking at Clancy’s site, though I don’t think I have the same sort of patience as Clancy does to actually read what people wrote there….

Poor Writing turns out to be "costly"/More teachers blogging

There were two things I found interesting in the July 6 NCTE Inbox.

First, it turns out that writing instruction might be important because bad writing costs businesses too much money. Shocking news, huh? Here’s a somewhat troubling passage from the Business Week article that the NCTE folks link to:

In a conference call interview last week, Kerrey, Huckabee, and Gaston Caperton — a former West Virginia governor who now leads the College Board — said many of the costs when state employees cannot express themselves clearly are hard to pin down. E-mail, which is so easy that workers can fire something off without thinking it through, may compound the problem.

“Increasingly as more things are done electronically, or via e-mail or blackberry, I think we tend to almost get even more sloppy,” Huckabee said. “The truth is we need to get clear and concise. That adds to productivity.”

Ah yes, it’s that darn technology that is screwing up writing. Never mind the fact that electronic formats like email represent a significant percentage of the writing that people in the business world actually do.

All of this is based on a report, which is available online here (pdf). There’s been quite a bit of talk about all this on the WPA-L mailing list, and I think most of that conversation has been productive, though no one has really talked about what counts (or doesn’t) as “good writing.” Not that we could ever be completely clear about what is or isn’t “good writing,” but I suspect that some of the problem is what counts as good writing for some folks is bad writing to other folks.

But I also have to wonder is what’s the point of comparison? Has there ever been a commission or organization that has determined that writing skills (or math skills or science skills or whatever) among members of a particular group (state workers, students, teachers, or whoever) are good or even adequate? I doubt it. And if that’s the case, if writing has always been important and if workers have always been bad at it, well, what does being bad at writing mean then?

The second piece I was interested in was an article about teachers keeping blogs. The article NCTE Inbox is linking to was published in the Palm Beach Post (I presume Florida). In the NCTE blurb about the article, they highlight Will Richardson’s work at Weblogg-ed, as well they should. But I was a lot more interested in this part:

Word of mouth can be powerful as pioneering teachers talk about the benefits to co-workers.

That’s why more than 300 of the 7,000 teachers in Macomb County, Mich., are already registered bloggers on a site called visitmyclass.com. Blog names range from the eloquent (“A Literary Escape”) to the pointed (“Ms. Klosowski’s Helpful Suggestions for GED Improvement”).

Chris Burnett, a self-described technophobic language-arts teacher in Macomb County, used a blog for the first time this past year to engage her students.

Rather than hang their writing around the room, she’s publishing the musings of one of her eighth-grade classes on her blog. Readers can share their thoughts in postings on the blog.

Macomb county is the northern suburbs of Detroit, and I swear that the name Chris Burnett rings a bell…. Anyway, this might be an interesting piece to bring up when I teach 516 again.

What the Grokster decision might (or might not) mean to me

Jim Porter and Martine Courant Rife have a paper on the WIDE resource at Michigan State about the recent Supreme Court decision against Grokster and what it might mean for universities. It’s interesting reading. Three thoughts:

  • Sure, I downloaded some music (illegally) from sources like limewire and napster back in the day, but I gave up on it pretty quickly. I thought that the time it took to download illegal tunes and the poor quality of the dowloads just wasn’t worth it. I have been happy with what I can get from iTunes though. It’s not free, but it is reasonably priced, it’s clearly legal, and the sound quality is good. I dunno, maybe it’s because I’m middle-aged and (reasonably) well paid, but I am just not willing to put up with the hassle of free downloads.
  • During my recent travels (I think while I was in southern Minnesota), I heard this story on “On the Media,” an NPR news show about (duh) “the media.” In this report about the decision, the legal expert basically suggests that a) the Supreme Court’s decision was actually a “non-decision” in that what this decision really does is put off the question of “legitimate” file sharing for another day, and b) it boils down to the idea that Grokster (et al) were ruled against because they were kind of jerks. Here’s a quote from legal expert Michael Madison about that:

    “I have a lot of confidence that firms that are already in mature markets, say for example Google, which is a company that takes advantage of intellectual property rights in a number of complex ways, Google is likely going to be able to innovate without a lot of concern, in my opinion, from this Grokster ruling. What the court is really trying to do in a not particularly elegant way is distinguish good guys from bad guys.”

  • Personally, I’d like to see the Supreme Court rule on copyright and such for universities once and for all. Porter and Rife write in the summary of their paper:

    Clearly universities are not promoting copyright infringement by their students, as were Grokster and StreamCast – and universities could just as easily use the Court’s opinion in Grokster to defend its practices. However, the recording and film industries are likely to use the ruling as a basis for litigation holding universities responsible for copyright infringements by students – and such action could well have an unfortunate chilling effect on universities.

    I am no copyright attorney, that’s for sure, and I haven’t studied this stuff to the extent that other people (like these two) have. But I guess I’d still like to see a test case where some copyright holder goes after a university for promoting “fair use.” I have to think that the courts, even the conservative ones, would value the promotion of ideas at a university more than the film industry. And I guess I’d also like to see this ruling because, as far as I can tell, no one really understands what is or isn’t “fair use” of copyrighted materials. Maybe if there was a test case, some of this confusion could be cleared up.

Three minor thoughts about this whole Fulkerson thing….

Thought #1:

While I admire greatly the earnestness associated with the posts on this this Fulkerson essay in the CCCs, I just can’t bring myself to read that essay right now. I’m sort of in summer break mode, and it seems too much like work to me. Get back to me in a week or so.

Thought #2:

If I were in charge of this carnival (and obviously this is not the case), I might be inclined to get people to think about/write about the article “The Ecoomics of Authorship: Online Paper Mills, Student Writers, and First-Year Composition” by Kelly Ritter. Of course, I haven’t read this article yet either (see thought #1), but it sounds more interesting to me. At least the title.

Thought #3:

I sure hope Collin does something like this with the new and forthcoming version of the CCCs Online. I think it would be super-duper cool to have a forum where readers could comment on articles in the print journal in a format like this.

Did you miss me? (A round-up of what I have clearly missed….)

We’re back in town after a family trip out west (which was a lot of fun). I’m actually only going to be here a couple of days before leaving again, but it’s nice to be home just for a bit, awake from sleeping in my own bed, and sitting here and drinking my own coffee at my own desk.

Anyway, here’s kind of a round-up post of some of the things that I have appeared to have missed:

  • There’s a “textual carnival” reading of Richard Fulkerson’s “Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century,” from the June 2005 (56.4) issue of College Composition and Communication. My guess is that my copy of the CCCs is in the held mail that won’t arrive here until tomorrow at the earliest. Oh well, I’ll catch up on that one later. I’ll link here to Clancy’s entry on this, but Collin, Jenny, Derek and probably others have posted on this bit as well.
  • There was an article published on the Inside Higher Ed site called “Collegiality — the Tenure Track’s Pandora’s Box” by Mary McKinney. McKinney– who isn’t a tenure-track academic herself (I don’t think) but a psychologist who “coaches” people seeking tenure (?)– is basically suggesting that people seeking tenure ought to work hard at getting along with co-workers. Wow, shocking advice. Nowhere in the article does she point out that a) to get tenure, you should first and foremost do the work required by that particular institution because being the nicest person in the world who doesn’t do the work in terms of scholarship, teaching, and service will still not get tenure; b) the standards for tenure vary wildly, so the tenure-seeking faculty member should inquire about the local standards and not pay as much attention to the “lore” of things like “publish or perish;” c) the idea that one should “try to get along with your co-workers” merely reminds us that being a college faculty member is a lot like actually having a job; and, finally d) McKinney (and the many folks who comment on this) doesn’t mention the fact that (according to the AAUP, I think) something like 90% of folks who apply for tenure actually get it so you shouldn’t stress it too much.
  • I’ve gotten some good feedback from folks on my Chronicle article, which has been nice. The EMU PR folks reported my publication in a mass email to people and they described the CHE as an “international” publication. Well, I don’t know about that, but it’s nice to now that the PR people must obviously read CHE…. Oh, and thanks a bunch to Bob, who sent me a PDF version of my article, which I’ll post here for now and on that other entry later.
  • Jeff and Jenny have been doing a little urban pioneering in Detroit as of late.
  • The TV fan in me enjoyed this post and this post at Johndan’s blog.
  • Mike has a belated post about some of what he saw at the Computers and Writing Conference. He’s excused for being late, though; he’s been working on his dissertation….
  • Dr. B. seems frustrated about this gaming conference she went to. From what she reports, I would be too.

I’m sure there’s more, but that’s enough to go look at for the time-being. Besides, I have to get ready to go to the July 4 parade.

Remembering John Lovas

I’m shocked and saddened to hear that John passed away yesterday at the age of 65. There is a web space at DeAnza college to remember John, a “Festschrift.”

I feel like I knew him quite well as a colleague, and yet I met him in person only once at the Computers and Writing conference in Hawaii last year, and I probably only exchanged a dozen words with him then. This is how fellow bloggers are: we talk to each other through our typing.

John’s posts at “A Writing Teacher’s Blog” were a regular way for me to start my day. I found his writing engaging, inspiring, inviting, and, well, useful. John was a great source of advice and wisdom about the practicalities of teaching writing and it was so obvious that he loved what he did. It’s fitting somehow that the last post he made about a month ago was titled “Beginnings” and is about the challenge, as John wrote, of getting “the student to connect the banalites to real experiences, observations, or recollections. When that happens, there’s a real chance for a paper worth reading.”

I’ll miss John quite a bit and regret that I didn’t have a chance to speak with him more in person, but I’ll always remember our conversations in writing.

Thoughts on "Blogs as a Tool for Teaching"

I’m guessing that at least some people coming to this blog for the first time are here because of an article I have in the June 24 Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Information Technology Supplement.” It kind of shows up in the back of that section, so I don’t know how many people have (or ever will) read it. But if you’re here because you did read it, thanks.

This was an interesting writing experience for me in a couple of different ways, so I thought I’d mention a few things about it here:

  • This came about because I was contacted by an editor at the CHE who either read or had heard of an article I had in the online academic journal Kairos called “When Blogging Goes Bad: A Cautionary Tale About Blogs, Email Lists, Discussion, and Interaction” and asked me if I wanted to write a piece about teaching with blogs. Considering the fact that the CHE has quite a broad reach and they were going to pay me, I of course agreed.
  • I thought the CHE folks were nice to work with, actually.
  • If I ever teach an undergraduate class at EMU about the “publishing process” as it really happens, I’ll show them the various drafts and the give-and-take with the editors. It’s interesting because where I started this essay months ago is not the same where I ended up. For the most part, that’s a good thing.
  • Regrets? A few, maybe. I (of course!) did not have a lot of space to work with, and there were a few places where the editor was asking me “to explain that more” and I really just couldn’t explain enough. I mean, these things are complicated. As a result, there are a few places where I think the piece reads a bit stiff to me.
  • I have no idea what the deal is with the “drummer boys” graphic on page B34.
  • I still basically agree with the points I think I am trying to make, though one thing I wish I had talked about more in this essay (and in the Kairos piece, for that matter) is the extent to which improving blogging tools make certain aspects of blogging, such as interaction, better than they were. Well, maybe that can be the next essay.

Oh yeah: there’s other essays in this issue, too.

I don’t have any use for it in a small writing class (at least I don’t think I do…), but these “clickers” that are surfacing in lecture hall classes are really interesting. It’s kind of a gimmick, sure, but I bet it really does keep students interested. Interestingly though, some of the other articles are talking about using technologies (video, for example) as a “hook” to keep students (the proverbial “MTV generation?”) interested.

There’s a piece called “Hold a Socratic Chair” that I thought was pretty interesting because I’m going to be teaching an all online class for the first time in the fall. It’s about a guy who teaches at Concord University School of Law, which offers a completely online degree. And then there’s a bunch of stuff I’ll need to read later, a piece by Janet Murray, an interestingly titled essay called “Why Many Faculty Members Aren’t Excited About Technology,” an article about course management tools that might come in handy for a different project, and some other things I’m not going to mention now.

Anyway, go buy it now. Good reading.

Update:
Jeff’s question in his comment prompted me to ask the folks at the CHE if I could reprint/repost my essay here. They said I could republish it anywhere I wanted as long as I acknowledged that it first appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education. So there ya go.

My scan of the article (saved as a PDF file)
is pretty bad, so if anyone has an electronic version of this from the CHE web site, I’d appreciate it if you could send it to me. Thanks in advance.