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….