Academic journal article College Student Journal

Student Use of Quantitative and Qualitative Information on RateMyProfessors.com for Course Selection

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Student Use of Quantitative and Qualitative Information on RateMyProfessors.com for Course Selection

Article excerpt

The present study examined whether students used qualitative information, quantitative information, or both when making course selection decisions. Participants reviewed information on four hypothetical courses in an advising context before indicating their likelihood to enroll in those courses and ranking them according to preference. Modeled after information presented on the online site RateMyProfessors. com, qualitative comments and quantitative averages were systematically varied. Participants also rated how much they use 11 different information sources (e.g., friends, university catalog) and how useful and reliable they perceived each of those sources to be. Results indicated that participants consider both qualitative and quantitative information when selecting courses. Significant correlations between use, usefulness, and reliability indicate that students selectively seek out information sources they perceive to be reliable and useful. Though participants indicated that they used RateMyProfessors.com less than traditional sources such as friends, other students, and academic advisors, they perceive it to be as useful and reliable as these sources. These results suggest that students pursue information they believe to be valid when making course selection decisions and that they ignore presentation format, weighing qualitative and quantitative information equally.

Keywords: RateMyProfessors, course selection, student evaluations, online ratings

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The online rating site RateMyProfessors. com (RMP) has altered the landscape of information available to students. RMP claims to be the biggest online listing of faculty ratings, boasting greater than 14 million ratings of over 1.3 million professors (RateMyProfessors.com 2014). RMP allows students to assign numeric ratings to instructor Easiness, Clarity, Helpfulness. The latter two scores are averaged into a rating of Overall Quality. Pick-A-Prof (PAP; www.pickaprof.com), another online rating site, posts instructor and course grade distributions. Both sites allow students to leave comments describing the course and/or instructor. By visiting these sites, students have access to both quantitative information compiled from the numeric ratings and actual grade distributions as well as qualitative information contained in student comments. While considerable research has investigated the reliability and validity of this information (e.g., Coladarci & Komfield, 2007; Davison & Price, 2009; Felton, Mitchell, & Stinson, 2004; Silva et al., 2008), there are few studies examining how students use the information they find on RMP or PAP for course selection and no one has examined whether students will make greater use of the quantitative information or the qualitative information available at these sites.

Research on RMP has primarily focused on the reliability and validity of the information posted there. Results have been mixed. Whereas in-class evaluations typically capture the entire range of student responses, students report posting comments and ratings on RMP only for exceptionally good or exceptionally bad professors (Kindred & Mohammed, 2005). Other studies have found that students predominantly comment about factors unrelated to learning, such as course difficulty or workload (Davison & Price, 2009) and their ratings are correlated with instructor sexiness (Felton et al., 2004; Silva et al., 2008). Despite these findings, Coladarci and Komfield (2007) found that RMP has reasonable correlations with traditional in-class evaluations, at least the quantitative ones.

Regardless of the validity of RMP, students use the site to make course selection decisions. Kindred and Mohammed (2005) found that students reported using RMP to see what others have said about a professor, but their primary use was for course selection information. They access the site during registration periods for information about specific instructors and the courses they teach and because doing so is convenient. …

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