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….

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.

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.

"Hole in the wall" in India Frontline story

In the process of surfing around tonight, I came aross this site, “The Hole in the Wall,” a Frontline story from 1999 or so. I think I had heard about this before, but basically, this computer company set up a computer monitor in a wall in a slum in India. Very quickly, slum kids started teaching themselves how to work the machine. Kinda cool stuff, and maybe a site I can use in my graduate computers and writing course.

School is (almost) out…

Today was the last day of my section of English 121; Wednesday is when we would have a final, but since we won’t really have a “final” in the class, it’s when the portfolio and any revisions are due.

Spring classes are tough because you are trying to accomplish in 7 1/2 weeks what is hard enough to do in 15 during the regular school year. It’s hard on the students, many of whom are taking the class now because they had “challenges” with it before. It’s hard on me because everything moves twice as fast and because, after the regular school year is over, I too am ready for a break.

Anyway, I’m about to take one. I will read through final projects and figure out final grades for students between now and Wednesday afternoon, and then we leave town for parts west of here first thing Thursday morning. It’s going to be a sorta/kinda “working vacation” in the sense that I am going to bring my computer and some work that I should have finished weeks ago is, er, “pressing.” But to tell the truth, I don’t know what kind of Internet access I’ll have and I don’t know how much time I’ll have, either. I guess I’ll find out in the next week or so.

The iPod experience at Duke

Here’s a couple of kind of fun and interesting links:

From Inside Higher Ed comes this article, “Duke Analyzes iPod Project.” And, for the whole sha-bang, there’s this, the “Duke iPod First Year Experience.” Personally, I think the whole iPod give-away thing is kind of a gimmick, and kind of a strange one for a place like Duke, if you ask me. “Sure, tuition is a gazillion dollars here at Duke, but hey, you get a free iPod!”

As reported in the Inside Higher Ed piece, there are some things that aren’t too surprising: for example, the greatest use of the iPod was in foreign language and music classes, and there were many “inherent limitations” for using the iPod in teaching, such as tools for mixing audio with images.

But I was surprised about the problem of some of the sound quality of iPod recordings not being good enough to use. I have one of these $50 recording devices for my iPod and it seems to work fine to me. Anyway, as I’ve mentioned before, I for one am interested in doing some podcasting sorts of things for an online class I’m teaching in the Fall; maybe they didn’t have much need for that at Duke.

I also think that iPods are useful (and might be useful for our students at EMU) simply as a portable hard drive. I haven’t tried to hook it up to a PC yet, but all I have to do to use it on a Mac is to plug it into an USB port. Very handy, if you ask me.

Of course, also easy to lose and/or steal, but that’s another story.

"Emerging Writing Technologies" search

Funny what you find when you’re not really looking for it. While trying to find something else with the search phrase “emerging writing technologies,” I found this essay by Jim Porter, “Why Technology Matters to Writing: A Cyberwriter’s Tale.” I’m linking it here because it just might help me to solve a problem I’ve been having with figuring out how to replace the “invent your own technology” assignment in my 328 class. Anyway, this post might only make sense to me, but Jim’s essay in pretty interesting.