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Should You Trust Rate-My-Professor?
Chances are you use an online site like Yelp or Urbanspoon to help you decide where you're going to go to dinner. Should the same decision-making process apply to something as major as the classes you take?
By Sarah Wright
Easy Class = Good Rating
The Internet is a great place to vent without fear of retribution. For this reason, it's a good idea to take online reviews of restaurants and services with a grain of salt. But what about professor rating sites? It's a fine idea to decide not to go to a restaurant because one disgruntled patron found a spider in their spaghetti. It might not be so smart to decide to skip a class you need to take because it's taught by a professor with some negative reviews on Rate My Professors.
Looking at the overall scoring on professor ranking sites isn't necessarily a great idea. It could be that one particular professor is getting high scores for assigning easy busywork and simple tests that won't actually leave you with substantial knowledge at the end of a semester. Or a particularly low score might be due to a small handful of students who've left vengeful feedback in response to poor grades they might well have deserved. When looking to these sites for information about an instructor, you should read individual reviews to get a better sense of what is informing the students' judgment.
Some Feedback is Better Than None
Though you should look at reviews with at least some skepticism, it does seem worthwhile to check out Rate My Professors and other sites to get some further information about a potential instructor. Of course, you can't know how compatible you'll be with someone until you meet them, but it's a good idea to be thoroughly informed when choosing which classes you'll take. Factoring the instructor in to that decision is a responsible and reasonable step to take. You'll just need to strike the right balance between not getting too discouraged or encouraged by reviews that might not reflect qualities that you'd be similarly critical of or excited about.
So What Should I Do?
Ultimately, we recommend checking out online professor rankings as one step in the process of choosing classes. That one step shouldn't be the only one you take, though. If a particular professor is described as having a teaching style that doesn't work for you, you might be able to use that information to take a needed class with someone else. If the class is only available with that one professor, you can approach the instructor directly to get your information straight from the source.
You might also want to use professor review sites as a supplement to information you can get directly from other students. If you know anyone who's been in classes with a particular instructor, you should approach them directly and ask about what their experience was. This will give you the opportunity to ask questions and get clarification on any strong feelings, something a ratings website can't allow. Your fellow students are a good source of information on who does a good job teaching at your school. But it's up to you to filter that information into something that is actually useful for you.
If you're looking for sources for professor rankings, check out our nominees for the Education Resource People's Choice Awards 'Best Professor Ranking' category.