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August 31, 2006

Comments

Xrlq

I've read plenty of blog entries by individuals I suspect of dishonest behavior, but this is the first I've read openly endorsing it.

Hugo

Consider it civil disobedience. Given the lamentable popularity of RMP, doesn't that seem somehow more noble?

wolfa

Are class evaluations available to all students there? Why not instead focus on trying to make those equally available to the students (ie, online). They're way more informative, but they're usually really hard to access, even for current students.

Xrlq

No, it's not. If intentional deception forms any part of your argument, why should the rest of us trust any other part of it? "OK, so maybe I sometimes lie to everyone, but right now I'm telling you the truth, honest!" does not inspire confidence. It's also completely unnecessary, when so much more can be accomplished by truthfully exposing the (presumably unforged) crap that gets posted there every day. Take, for example, this review of my father (whose name and institution I'll gladly provide by email if you like, but would not care to broadcast publicly):

dude ishorrible! donttake him ever.i use to like math. but know i may want to change majors. worst of all is that he's like head of the department and he's suppose to be the best. plz whatever you do if you want to keep enjoying math do notttttttttt take him. he's says umm alot he stutters ,has no sense of humor, and you have to teach yourself.

If you trust a review written by some bumbling boob like that, well, you deserve what you get. Caveat lector.

Hugo

Wolfa, I would support that wholeheartedly.

Look, I've done well by Ratemyprofessors. I've got more ratings than any other prof in my entire college (though I don't know that all of them come from students.) It's immodest to mention, but I am ranked the second hottest prof in North America by RMP -- an honor I am sure I don't deserve, and one which may have been rigged for all I know.

So much of what appears on RMP is abusive, exaggerated, and unscreened. And it is taken far too seriously by students. Therefore, a certain amount of cheerful civil disobedience seems justifiable. I may rethink my decision, of course, should RMP suddenly threaten legal action or the like.

That said, I do think a carefully controlled set of evaluations should be made available to students. But the way it currently exists, RMP is not useful.

Hugo

X, I've gotten a couple like your dad's. Perhaps you're right, and we should let students hoist themselves with their own petards.

deirdre dashwood

Hi, Tearfree here. I find my teaching evaluations bear no resemblance to my ratemyprofessors rating although you'll find profs who swear theirs do.

I have some serious questions about the methodology of teaching evaluations, but I've certainly gleaned valuable info from them, which is way more than I can say for ratemyprofs.com

I would certainly not be opposed to having evaluations made more accessible.

What I would really like to see though is some kind of graduates' survey with a question along the lines of, "NOw that you're (somewhat) older and wiser, from which class did you most benefit?"

Hugo

Deirdre, I didn't realize you were "tearfree"! My bad -- thanks so much for the link!

And your question is indeed an excellent one -- I'd love to see what students put to it.

wolfa

I'm with X. I've never used it for myself, because at my undergrad school, most of my classes had no choice in profs -- other courses I had much better sources to ask from. I have left comments there, because at my undergrad school, there was no access to the actual evaluations. (In one dept, the profs were handed them as is, so they recognised all the majors by handwriting.) I'd have preferred real evaluations, but I couldn't get them -- a lot of people use RMP there, though, because how else do you know who to sign up for your first semester? My grad school, otoh, had them online, but again: inconvenient to get to, without the written comments, but with all the numbers and stats (avg for that course, avg for that dept, avg for that course level in that dept).

As for RMP, why not ask your students to write thoughtful evaluations of one or more prof (not -- or not necessarily -- you) each semester? Show examples like X's, and say that you know people use it a lot, so it would be better if the comments were contentful instead. Stress the comments don't need to be positive -- and that you won't be policing it. But your students seem to like and respect you -- you could have a big impact that way.

elizabeth

Do you really feel, considering the already skewed nature of the power relationship between tenured professors and students that hijacking any criticism by stalking yourself with positive statements is really a form of "civil disobedience" - it seems instead that while on the one hand you want students to appreciate and respect your teaching methods and standards, on the other hand you think they are sheep easily led astray (by either not rating you sufficently or by believing random one liners over previous students). Yes, huzzah, you have overcome the oppression of....an internet gossip site?

deirdre dashwood

X, for a long time, I thought like you. No one's going to believe it so who cares. But then a student posted a comment saying I was anti-black, meaning anti-African American or Canadian (in my case.)

This threw me for a loop because I couldn't remember ever having discussed anything to do with race in class and then I remembered. We had been discussing a work of fiction where a character complained that yuppies don't tip and that led to a discussion of tipping. And I said, there were all sorts of theories out there about who tipped and who didn't and that I'd read that women don't tip and blacks don't tip and yuppies didn't tip. The student obviously processed this as "racist" and went on-line and told it to the whole world. That was basically my tipping point.

I don't see why I should have to be subjected to that on a highly popular site which gets enough hits to rate high in Google. And I'm sorry I don't buy your all or nothing lying thesis. I've always been a believer in little white lies and I've made my comments on ratemyprofs over the top enough that if they don't generate healthy skepticism, well, buyer beware.

metamanda

As a grad student, I find that reading the undergrad's assessments on RMP and then reversing them completely is a pretty useful guide.

BriBri

Your ratings are almost all positive, Hugo, and well-deserved. (Even the 2nd hottest prof in the States: you have 141 chillies!) So you of all people should love Rate My Professors! It brings students to you!

But I really hope you don't artificially inflate your colleague's ratings. Rate My Professors does have some stupid ratings on it, but I have found it really helpful. For the most part the ratings are fairly accurate. Some of your fellow profs shouldn't be in teaching, and students should have a chacne to know they should avoid them. When you artifically inflate their ratings, you hurt your own students.

sc

FWIW, I found Rate My Professors for my gf after she had come home crying from a class because the "professor", an art teacher at the Academy of Art in S.F. basically took her aside, told her how untalented she was and how she'd have no future and why was she wasting his time and hers. I showed her the site, and she proceeded to find out that yes, this WAS a continuing pattern with said teacher, that he only wants to work with whom he deigns as "talented" and will verbally abuse the student until they quit.

She is now happily over Ex'Pressions. I do understand how professors would feel about being rated like an Amazon book, but in my opinion, Rate My Professors gave my gf a perspective desperately needed after having her ego shredded by an asshole.

deirdre dashwood

Tearfree again. Last comment, I swear, and then I'll stop hijacking this thread.

I found sc's comment very interesting as I have a lot of experience with writing programs. I used to be very friendly with a penniless creative writing student who was told he might as well give up by a famous writer teacher. He ignored that advice and went on to win major prizes and have his last book reviewed on the front page of the NYT Book Review. So yeah, there are idiots teaching this type of courses.

On the other hand I have a friend, who never disses anyone, who also teaches creative writing. Google her name and the first thing that comes up is her RTP writing talking about how she quashed a studen't dream. Now, I also happen to know for a fact that some students can't take constructive criticism or recognize the difference between constructive and negative criticism. So, there is nothing to say that this one student's view is accurate.

And yet, google my friend as another friend did, trying to track down my friend's husband, and what did she find -- the RTP rating. She was so horrified by it that she brought it up with me. And the friend who did the googling, is a sceptic journalist.

So with all due respect to Elizabethe, we're not talking here about "some internet gossip site." We're talking about a site that gets enough page views to have google staying power.

And wow, Hugo, 141 chilies. My Gawd, you must be hotter than Jack Bauer!

Hugo

BriBri wrote: When you artifically inflate their ratings, you hurt your own students. And SC wrote: I do understand how professors would feel about being rated like an Amazon book, but in my opinion, Rate My Professors gave my gf a perspective desperately needed after having her ego shredded by an asshole.

These are possibly potent arguments against giving flattering ratings to all my colleagues. FWIW, I wasn't planning on rating myself! I do, however, think seriously about giving chili peppers to all my colleagues as an ego boost.

Deirdre says: And wow, Hugo, 141 chilies. My Gawd, you must be hotter than Jack Bauer!

No one is hotter than Jack Bauer. And I can think of three of my colleagues I consider to be hotter than me...

Especially after reading your post, Deirdre, I'm convinced most of those "hot" ratings come from just one or two devoted fans. Still, I notice I am not that far out of first place. Whether taking over first place from that Canadian dude would constitute a feather in my cap, I don't know! ;-)


elizabeth

This actually reminds me a great deal of a local politician who was found out after a two year letter writing campaign where he was writing letters about how much he did for the community under the names of several different teenage girls (he was about 55). He couldn't see the problem since he knew he did a good job.

Now one might argue that politicians are public figures who affect thousands of people and they need to understand that good and bad reviews as well as people easily offended or impossible to please come with the territory as devoted fans. While tenure teachers might only affect up to a few hundred a year; they are in thier own way public figures as well. Every poet who stands in front of mike on open mike night has to realize they no longer have control over what people think of thier work, and though people may have paid money to learn from you, they essentially are paying to hear you speak and after that you don't have control over thier opinions either. And quite frankly, the resistance and need to create an intellectual basis on how a bunch of people giving reviews of teachersperformances as a bad thing disturbs me. It particularly disturbs me on a blog that quite openly discusses different ways teachers evaluate students (like sexually rating them), or how great it is to have a special student, or even the nature of student crushes. Well, there is that side of teaching and now there is Rate My Professor.

I hope that most long term teachers realize that they are not universally effective to every student - some will resonate, some won't; some will love the course, some won't; some will think you are the wisdom of the ages; some will think that you are the cause of all thier problems. And yes, now that is all going on openly in cyberspace and there is not a lot a teacher can do about it (unless you want to pretend to be a bunch of 18 and 19 year olds?). It is the cost of being, in many ways, an artist. You want to help shape minds and make a difference - well this is the cost. Certainly they can't say anything about you that hasn't been said about what are now considered the most influential writers and thinkers. Negative reviews are part of the business; as is getting googled I guess (journalists shouldn't be surprised at this since most employers aren't). I suppose one can either copy the writer Pope and get two giant dog for unleasing on ones critics or accept that nothing inspires bile faster than a C in a lazy student and just get on teaching.

Mermade

I gave my sixty-something year old English professor a chili because I thought his mad genius mind was "hot." I'm the only one to have given him a chili. Of course, my crushes have always been kind of weird: dirty metalhead, retired English teacher, Jeremy. HA!

At any rate, I admit that I find RMP useful to some degree because SOME of the comments are thoughtful and intelligent, though I feel guilty about using them waaaaaay to seriously them when selecting my classes. Another sad thing is that it’s seeping into our language. When discussing classes with my friends, we sometimes ask each other if our prof has a chili. My mom even asks me if any of my teachers have chilies. Sheesh!

Technocracygirl

Like Wolfa, I doubt I ever would/could have used RMP. Most of my classes with multiple teachers I chose based on timing, and the rest (a majority) were taught by only one prof anyway.

I guess I don't mind a place where people can post their feelings about their professors, but I really don't like the idea of rating a prof's hotness. As if hotness or lack thereof had anything to do with how well one resonates with a professor! Feh.

Anthony Nieto

Hi Hugo.

Hugo...I have a question about a certain History Professor at PCC; a tenured one at that. I took his American History course at the same time I took your European course.

On the first day of class he told us that 70% of the class would eventually fail or drop out. There were over 40 students in the first week of class, and I was 1 of 9 to take the final exam. An honor student whom I now attend cal with, dropped the course after receiving his first D at PCC after the first midterm. He asked me daily if "my train has been derailed yet?" when I would walk into class. This guy is no friend, mentor, or professor to his students, he is a bully. When I scored a 102% on the final after I told him I'd need at least a B to get into Cal, he gave me the solid C. The C+ which haunts to me this day on my GPA for grad school, even though he made a deal with the class that if any student received an A on the final exam they would receive an A in the course.

On one occasion he came into class 10 minututes late, on his cell phone. He asked us a single question and when no student answered it, he told us we did not try hard enough; he got back on his cell phone and walked out of class for the day. The guy is horrible and needs to be replaced. My question is, have you heard any horror stories from other students about this self-proclaimed ex-marine?

My point to all this, as it refers to ratemyprofessor.com is that I was warned about this guy from ratemyprofessor.com and with few exceptions, it is a very valuable tool in considering a professor to give your time, attention, emotions, future, and mind to. To some extent, you are only as good as your ratemyprofessor ratings. Oh yeah, and this guy not only has quite a few "hot" ratings and flattering comments directed towards his physical shell, but all females in the course at the time considered him a "creep," which is a more realistic interpretation of the guy.

Col Steve

Hugo - seems to me that part of your tact goes against what you advocate here so often. Go ahead and praise the pedagogy of your peers (merited or not), but why include the "hotness" aspect?

I would think, instead of gaming the system with "cheerful" disobediance, an "academy" response to the RMP effect might focus on a coordinated effort to cure the underlying problems that give rise to a RMP type outlet. If most institutions that profess to claim teaching as an important mission would devote resources to developing, executing, and disseminating valid and useful student evaluations, then RMP like sites would have less substantive influence (although I suspect the lure for slacker students would remain). Maybe the "academy" should develop a "rate our college president" site to make the point..

Perhaps the above solution is a "global" one. I would still think a "local" solution is forcing RMP to realize the stated purpose on its webiste by flagging every rating that violates RMP's *supposed* guidelines to ensure ratings focus on the professional abilities of professors [[ limit your comments to the professor’s professional abilities; (DO NOT) Criticize the way a professor looks or dresses. Appearances have little to do with a professor’s ability to teach the material; (DO NOT) Include sexual innuendo in your comment(s)]], advocating more creative ways to exploit the student admin position, and challenging RMP to create an accompanying professor rebuttal option on a limited number of entries.

Hugo

Col, you'll get no argument from me here:

If most institutions that profess to claim teaching as an important mission would devote resources to developing, executing, and disseminating valid and useful student evaluations, then RMP like sites would have less substantive influence...

Indeed.

Anthony, I think I know the colleague to whom you refer. As a fellow PCC professor, I apologize that your experience was so negative! Like the comments from Bri and sc above, it at least makes me rethink my little plan to follow deirdre's (tearfree) example. Perhaps following the Colonel's suggestion and developing a more thoughtful version of RMP is the answer, one that excludes the bizarre personal attacks and nonsense, as well as the hotness factor.

Vacula

My little sister is just starting classes as a freshman this week and started checking out her teachers on myspace's "professor grading" section. Her favorite review:

Overly emotional ultra-liberal. All the readings where from feminist authors. She should really not be teaching a Christian University. The worst prof. I have had.

Hopefully people who don't like passionate feminists will stay away from this one, but it made my sister happy after years of harsh conservative Christians in high school. The other reviews refer to her teaching style and knowledge, btw, not her ideological stance, and give her pretty high scores.

I've personally taken the time to go back and add reviews to professors I took classes with years ago, especially good ones that I noticed got a bum rap from having to teach awful freshmen intro classes with heavy workloads. If you feel like it, I do think encouraging your students to leave honest and (hopefully) more substantive reviews would be a good thing.

Hugo

My little sister is just starting classes as a freshman this week and started checking out her teachers on myspace's "professor grading" section.

Is that different from Ratemyprofessors? Myspace has its own separate system??

Heavens.

Vacula

Yeah, but it's pretty informal - no "hotness rating" and they break it down by sections a little so you can see composite judgements and hopefully the students have to think a little bit. For instance:

Lectures: A
Homework: B
Tests: B
Fairness: A+
Grading: A+
Accessibility: A+

Final: A

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