Is Ratemyprofessors Right?

Inside Higher Ed reports:

What if RateMyProfessors.com — the site that professors love to hate — is more accurate than they think? Or what if officially sanctioned student evaluations of faculty members — which many professors like to contrast with RateMyProfessors.com — are just as dubious as RateMyProfessors?

Those are questions raised by a new study by two professors at the University of Maine who compared the ratings on RateMyProfessors.com of 426 Maine instructors with the formal student evaluations used by the university. The results were just published in the journal Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation. The key findings are that RateMyProfessors.com ratings have a significant correlation with the formal student evaluations on the questions about the overall quality of the course and the relative difficulty or ease of the course.

Complaints about RateMyProfessors.com are widespread. Because the site doesn’t seek representative samples of students, or even ensure that students are ranking professors whose courses they have taken, a challenging professor may receive low scores from students who never did the work and an instructor who gives everyone A’s may be nominated for professor of the year. Studies have found that the best way to score well on RateMyProfessors.com is to look “hot” and be an easy grader.

So what does it mean if RateMyProfessors.com has a high correlation with the kinds of student evaluations that colleges see as more valid? “The results of our study are meaningful only insofar as one regards student evaluations of teaching as meaningful,” said Ted Coladarci, professor of educational psychology at Maine and the author of the new study, along with his Orono colleague, Irv Kornfield. Someone who believes that formal students evaluations “are of little value” would find their correlation with RateMyProfessors to be “at best, entertaining,” Coladarci said.

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