Academic journal article College Student Journal

Turning the Tables: Using Ratemyprofessors. Com as a Teaching Tool in the Community College Classroom

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Turning the Tables: Using Ratemyprofessors. Com as a Teaching Tool in the Community College Classroom

Article excerpt

Student evaluations of the courses which they take and/or the professors who teach those courses are commonly accepted by both faculty members and college administrators as important sources of information which is used when making decisions about tenure and promotion of faculty members. With the widening availability of online resources, the process through which these evaluations are conducted is changing. And with those changes come new questions about who is doing the evaluating and upon what bases are the competencies of professors being judged.

In the days when paper-and-pencil evaluations were done in the classroom, usually without the professor present, they were returned to some central location by one of the students in the class. This ensured that only members in the class were doing the evaluating, that those class members had continued to be involved in the class through the last phases of the semester (since this is when the evaluation forms would be distributed) and that there would be a high participation rate as it was very unlikely that anyone present in the class on the date of the evaluation would refuse to complete the evaluation form. This formal, well-designed and controlled process was effective (Cashin, 1995; Centra, 2003; Otto et al, 2008).

Silva et al (2008) report that this method of evaluation produces very useful results. Greenwald & Gilmore (1997) and McKeachie (1999) found that an instructor's clarity, expressiveness, quality of interactions with students and grading leniency contributed to positive evaluations, but several other researchers found a correlation between teaching effectiveness and physical attractiveness (Goebel & Cashen, 1979; Lombardo & Tocci, 1979; Riniolo et al, 2006).

Many perceive that there is an additional failure in the system. Specifically, when the data are collected on paper and then submitted to some college office, the students do not receive a report of how they, as a group, feel about the courses which they have taken and the professors who have taught those courses. And, in fact, professors usually do not get a report of how they were rated by their students until late in the following semester.

When we entered the computer age, many colleges turned away from the tried-and-true paper-and-pencil method and, instead, requested that students visit a website provided by the college where each student would find a list of his or her classes. Theoretically, this method should be just as efficient as the one it replaced. However, many colleges experienced a significant drop in the number of students who took the time to complete the online evaluation forms, leaving these institutions to struggle with developing means through which they could motivate more students to invest the time needed outside of the classroom to evaluate their courses.

With the number of students responding at some colleges dropping significantly, faculty members grew concerned that the responses for any given class would not be representative of the whole class because who but the most motivated students would take the time to do a course evaluation? And, further, might it not be true that the students most motivated to take the time to participate in the online evaluation process would be those who were most disappointed by the course and/or the professor?

But whether or not a specific student invests the time to evaluate his or her classes and professors through the college web page to which they are directed, it is quite likely that he or she will visit an online non-college-affiliated website to read the ratings made by other students.

Today, one of the most widely-used of these websites is RateMyProfessors.com. At that website, students are asked to evaluate their experiences with each of their professors according to such variables as Easiness, Helpfulness and Clarity, although student ratings of these characteristics correlate highly with an instructor's appearance (Buck & Tiene, 1989; Felton et al, 2004). …

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