Educators question RateMyProfessor annual college rankings

More than 1 million professors are rated on RateMyProfessor.

Can 10 million college students be wrong? The popular site RateMyProfessor released its 2010-11 rankings April 26 – naming the top university and professors – as many in higher education remain skeptical of the site and said students shouldn’t base their school choices on RateMyProfessor’s reviews.

Students on RateMyProfessor, which compiles anonymous student ratings and written reviews of more than 1 million professors and instructors on 6,500 campuses, named Brigham Young University (BYU) the nation’s top school.

Florida State University, the University of Wisconsin – Madison, the University of Michigan, the University of Georgia, and the University of California Berkeley rounded out the website’s top-five ranking for the 2010-11 academic year.

Fullerton College in Fullerton, Calif. was rated the country’s best junior college on RateMyProfessor, followed by Santa Rosa Junior College in California, and Valencia Community College in Florida.

David Mease, a business professor at San Jose University, was voted RateMyProfessor’s top professor. And in a category that names the “hottest” college educator of the year, George Washington University creative writing professor Daniel Gutstein took home the title.

Professors and instructors have long disparaged RateMyProfessor as nothing more than a sounding board for frustrated students publicly airing their grievances and grinding axes in the internet’s anonymous public square.

In interviews with eCampus News, educators said they would encourage prospective college students to avoid RateMyProfessor, or view the site’s annual college rankings with a skeptical eye.

“I think young people are savvy enough to know that this type of feedback is highly unreliable,” said Aron Goldman, an instructor at the Amherst College Center for Community Engagement in Massachusetts, adding that many RateMyProfessor reviews are just a few words about a professor being a lenient grader or a quiet talker. “It can be entertaining, but that’s about it.”

RateMyProfessor was launched in 1999 as, with a ratings system that lets students give a 1-5 mark to professors and their classes and limits comments to 350 characters or less.

Students also can designate educators as “hot” or “not” – indicating their attractiveness with digital chili peppers.

Some educators conceded that high school and college students will use RateMyProfessor and similar websites – such as RateYourProf or ProfessorPerformance – when deciding which campus to attend next fall, just as someone in the market for a new TV would scan consumer sites in search of ratings and customer comments.

“Students hopefully want to have the best experience in class and I believe they are going to do their research if options are available,” said Aaron Doering, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota. “The caution with any of this is that one must ask what motivates someone to make these postings? Are individuals more motivated to post something when they are not satisfied? Many times, it seems that is the case and thus, not a true representation of what may be happening in the classroom.”

Heidi Jaenicke, a blogger for the Scottsdale Community College Chronicle, said in a recent post that RateMyProfessor’s appeal is evident to anyone who’s ever been subject to the whims of a professor, but students should be wary of its rankings and ratings.

“It’s fun to turn the tables on the teachers who always do the grading on us,” she wrote. “For the same reasons professors don’t allow us to cite information we find on sites like Wikipedia,” RateMyProfessor should have a screening process that makes the ratings more accurate.

While there are legions of professors who track their rankings and students’ feedback on RateMyProfessor, Doering said he abstains from the anonymous postings and bases his classroom success on face-to-face conversations with students.

“I simply do the very best teaching my courses and leave it at that,” he said. “With the internet, you can find just about any perspective and thus, as a professor, I take postings like this lightly.”

It seems Doering wouldn’t regret a peak at his RateMyProfessor page, which is littered with praise, calling Doering “very constructive” and a “phenomenal teacher” who “makes learning fun.”

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