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Friday, May 20, 2005

Online Professor Ratings

I have a few friends in academia, and was a bit surprised to learn that they've been profiled at the online rating site ratemyprofessors.com .  No embarrassing results so far, but it's still potentially disconcerting to a professor, to know that students will be discussing her online, anonymously, and giving her ratings from 1 to 5 in categories like "Easiness," "Helpfulness," "Clarity" and even "Looks"!

The site doesn't seem to have caught on much with law students.  I checked my own alma mater and found just a handful of ratings under "Law."  But I suspect that this or a similar ratings site will become important to law students some time in the next few years. 

This change is probably for the worse.  On the one hand, such sites provide some information to students.  They may may reward professors who spend time and energy trying to teach well and to mentor students.  And in an ideal world, they might even shame some bad professors into teaching better. 

On the other hand, existing sites seem very susceptible to abuse.  A student with a grudge could leave dozens of bad rankings; a friend (or the professor herself) could stack the good rankings.  As US News shows us, any rankings system that can be gamed, will be gamed.  And so it seems likely that the most publicly available ratings metric -- web rankings -- will also be, for the foreseeable future, the least reliable. 

Posted by Kaimi Wenger on May 20, 2005 at 02:45 PM in Kaimi Wenger, Life of Law Schools | Permalink

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Comments

In my own personal experience, neither are true. My student evaluations are consistently very high, yet I am a very average looking woman (if that) who dresses conservatively. My courses are traditional and hard. I don't use any technology beyond the (physical) blackboard. I use the socratic method and last names. My exams are hard, but they are based on what we actually discuss in class. I think most law students (at least at the non-top 50 school where I teach) want relatively hard, but fair courses, in which the feel that they have learned a great deal and that the professor's primary objective was to teach them as much as possible in the amount of time available.

Posted by: untenured | May 22, 2005 1:40:15 PM

I am the founder of RateMyProfessors.com and have recently started a new website that you might be interested in, especially since it is lawyer-related. The site is LawyerRatingz.com and allows people to rate, and read about, lawyers.

Posted by: John M Swapceinski | May 22, 2005 6:01:31 PM

This discussion, like many in law, may be enriched by a bit of statistical work. Luckily, it has already been done:
("Web-Based Student Evaluations of Professors: The Relations Between Perceived Quality, Easiness, and Sexiness", located at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=426763)

Posted by: Dave Hoffman | May 25, 2005 12:35:59 PM

Also note that these sites are monitored, both by software and by human moderators, to detect people who try to "spam" the ratings.

The system is not perfect, but overall the ratings seem to be thoughtful and fair. The big advantage of these sites is that they represent the opinions of real "consumers" of the services being rated.

Posted by: Bob Nicholson | May 26, 2005 12:47:41 PM

I agree that this is very prone to abuse. A professor of mine, who was very good and extremely helpful, got hammered on his evaluations on one of these sites by a couple of lazy students who plagiarized papers and got booted from the class. They posted half-truths and outright lies (for example, one student said the prof lectured constantly in a monotone, when the course was all discussion and the prof was very lively). I know another prof of mine went on there and posted a glowing review of himself saying he should get tenure. So these sites are not really "monitored" at all. I mean, is there any way a professor can prove that a student lied about him, and would these moderators believe it and correct the lies? I look up reviews on there before taking a class, but I don't believe them. I used to work in a restaurant and I know that people are prone to write complaints, but they write nothing if they are happy, because they just expect that.

Posted by: Mark Rugger | Dec 8, 2005 3:18:32 PM

The potential for abuse is so great that there really need to be some form of moderation. Note I am not using the term "edit." When a student is angered by their final grade however -- whether it be for high expecations on the behalf of the professor or unrealistic expactations that simply showing up deserves an "A" -- these forums have the potential to become host to a tirade of nonsense. Is exposure to slander, inuendo and rumor mongering the price we pay (and endure) in order to provide a public service? Frequently, bad postings are made in haste and after some period of time the pain of enduring a difficult class passes and the perception of the teacher/experience mellows. The problem is that the statements, made in anger, endure far beyond faded memories. Statements made in a tempest affect people long after the storm has passed -- surely, this is an injustice and does not take into account that as teaching professionals, we constantly seek to improve ourselves through refection and correction.

Posted by: jon pilotman | Feb 5, 2006 12:52:34 PM

In my case, I am going up for tenure. A few years ago I caught a colleague plagiarizing some of my work (he stupidly presented it to an administrator in front of me). I exposed him, and now he spends a great deal of time at ratings sites bashing me. I log on to RateMyProfessor to find crazy things--I've been branded as hysterical and screaming as well as mumbling and hard to hear in class. I've been called a slut and incompetent (I'm sure my being a woman doesn't help the matter). He's so obvious about it that my colleagues recognize these postings as his, and he even often ends his rants with "Take Dr. (his name) instead! Much better!" I feel publicly harassed by these sites and have no recourse. I only hope my bid for tenure isn't affected by this harassment.

Posted by: Lisa Runson | Feb 19, 2006 11:51:15 AM

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