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Defending RateMyProfessors.com

RateMyProfessors.com is a website – now owned by MTV – that fills a strange space in the mindset of the academic community. At its best, it is a forum for students to honestly and anonymously evaluate their Professors. At its worst, it is a place for gossip, ridicule, and a tool to choose the path of least resistance on your way to a degree.

At my university, RateMyProfessor is often seen alt-tabbed in another window next to the University’s class selector software, students fervently cross-referencing available classes with their assigned professors . It’s not uncommon for students – faced with a large set of potential electives – to use RMP to choose their class solely on the ratings of the teachers found there. This is not neccessarily a bad thing at all – all other things equal, I can understand the willingness to choose a teacher that your peers have considered to be a better educator, or at least one that falls into line more with your particular style.

This, sadly, is not always the case. Two metrics by which professors are graded – “Easiness” and “Hotness”, the latter giving the professor a chili pepper next to their name – seem counterproductive and wholly immature. I’m not sure any professor would see being considered “easy” a good thing, and encouraging students to comment on their professor’s physical attractiveness is inappropriate (Van Halen notwithstanding).

Ultimately, RateMyProfessors.com walks tediously on that line between useful tool and immature annoyance. A quick survey of other ProfHacker contributors (all professors) tells me that RMP is mostly ignored by faculty, which is a shame – but understandable. I can imagine a tool similar to RMP becoming an honestly useful thing: just take out some of the more strange bits, maintain anonymity while asking students to register so that comments can not be spammed, etc – a  little less JuicyCampus, in other words. It could be a much more useful tool for faculty if it shaped up, assisting both students in choosing classes, as well as Professors in evaluation. In the meantime, we should not necessarily rail against the tool, strange as it is.

Do you have any stories of Faculty or Student using RateMyProfessors.com? Do you find it a useful tool, or an annoyance? How would you change it?

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