April 25, 2008
The website RateMyProfessors.com has been the subject of much criticism as it has grown in popularity. For instance, a professor from Central Michigan University ran some numbers and found that "the hotter and easier professors are, the more likely they'll get rated as a good teacher."
Inside Higher Ed reports today, however, on a couple studies that have found high correlations between RateMyProfessors.com and official university student-evaluation systems:
A new study is about to appear in the journal Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education and it will argue that there are similarities in the rankings in RateMyProfessors.com and IDEA, a student evaluation system used at about 275 colleges nationally and run by a nonprofit group affiliated with Kansas State University.
What is notable is that while RateMyProfessors.com gives power to students, IDEA gives a lot of control over the process to faculty members. Professors identify the teaching objectives that are important to the class, and those are the measures that count the most. In addition, weighting is used so that adjustments are made for factors beyond professors' control, such as class size, student work habits and so forth--all variables that RateMyProfessors doesn't really account for (or try to account for).
And at least some professors, it seems, find the reviews on RateMyProfessors.com useful for evaluating their own teaching strategies:
"I've been an instructor for 10 years. I look at it," he said, adding that he has found insights "that weren't on my teaching evaluations and I have thought: ???Wow. I believe what the student has said is valid and perhaps I can change the way I teach."
The obvious question here is, Could this work in K-12 education? There have been various efforts already to harness the power of Web 2.0 to improve K-12 schooling--see GreatSchools.net, for instance. But none have really reached the critical mass necessary for a collaborative online source of information to be of much use to people.
There's also the question of whether 13-year-olds' opinions of their teachers would be as reliable as those of college students. Surely, as in the case of RateMyProfessors.com, there would be plenty of mean-spirited comments. But done right it could be a powerful tool for gauging teacher and school quality.