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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Is Rate My Professors Changing Scheduling Decisions?

    It’s time yet again for students to crack down, get out their dusty old copies of course selection books, and somehow put a schedule together for next semester. Many things factor into making a schedule such as time and location. One thing that plays a big role into a student’s choice, however, is a professor’s rating on RateMyProfessors.com.

    One of Time magazine’s 50 Best Websites of 2008, Rate My Professors draws in millions of inquiring students each semester looking to see what others think of a professor before registering for a class. Since its inception in 1999, the site has gathered more then 6.8 million ratings, of about 1 million professors, and representing more than 6,000 schools in the United States, Canada, England, Scotland and Wales.

    The ratings on the site range from absolute admiration, to fierce loathing. Grading professors on easiness, helpfulness, clarity and even a rating to whether the professor is ‘Hot’ or ‘Not.’

    In particular, Stony Brook is ranked ninth for the best faculty. Since mtvU, which is owned by Viacom, bought the website in 2007, professor rebuttals became a new feature on the website. Professors can now respond to the comments made about them on the site. There is also a separate site that has videos of professors responding to comments made about them.

    Although many students seem to find the web site useful, not everyone is a fan of it. Anastasia Zannettis, an academic advisor for the Undergraduate College of Science and Society, is one of those people.

    ‘It doesn’t get the full range of the spectrum, it just gets the two ends.’ Zannettis said. ‘It’s the people that really really hate this professor, or the people that really really love this professor.’

    Calls to Rate My Professors were not returned.

    However accurate or inaccurate the ratings may be, they are not representative of the whole class. According to Zannettis, if there is a class of 100 students and three of them go online and rant about how terrible or wonderful their professor may be, it only represents the opinion of 3 percent of the class.

    However, students may still shy away from a particular class, or section of a class, if the professor has a bad rating.

    ‘I had to chose between two French classes,’ said Rob Mathrock, 18, a student at Stony Brook University. ‘One professor had a good rating and the other had a bad one so I went with the good one.’

    However many positive or negative ratings a professor might have doesn’t necessarily mean that the class will be a breeze. According to Zannettis what teaching methods one student responds to in a class is not necessarily the same for others.

    ‘I think a better venue for selecting classes is asking other students that you know have the same kind of learning style as you,’ said Richard Lee, 24, a graduate student in the Earth Science Teaching program. ‘You don’t know what the background is of the other people using that web site.’

    ‘Different students have different ways of learning,’ agreed Courtney Norman, 20, an Art History major. ‘Sometimes it works for you some times it doesn’t.’

    Paul Kaplan, a professor of Psychology, has acquired the most ratings of any professor at Stony Brook on the web site, totaling in at 166. Kaplan, who is unfamiliar with the website, agrees that students have the right to communicate with each other about their professors but it should be moderate. ‘We should be teaching students how to write and speak assertively, but with temperance,’ Kaplan said.

    The main problem that both students and professors agree on is that you don’t know who is posting on the web site. You don’t know if they went to class, if they went to professor’s office hours, if they did the homework, if they studied and overall what grade they got.

    ‘If you were to take a group of students who got a B and above, their evaluation would be different then those who got a D,’ said Kaplan.

    Other professors, such as Richard Hornik, a professor of News Literacy at Stony Brook University, have admitted to looking at their ratings.

    ‘I thought it was a valid comment,’ Hornik said, addressing a comment on the site by a student in his History and Future of the American Press class that said if you could not get an A in the class that you should drop out of college. ‘I was a little shocked when I first read it because I don’t think of myself being an easy grader, but it was qualified in a way that I thought was useful.’

    All students have different ways of learning and different ideas of what a good class is as Hornik said, ‘You may like a course in which all you have to do is memorize in order to get a good grade and I might like a course where I don’t have to memorize at all but be able to show that I have analyzed and am able to present my ideas.’

    Rate My Professors is not the only way professors are evaluated each semester. As all students know, at the end of each semester evaluation sheets are distributed that ask the same questions as Rate My Professors. These forms also include questions about what was good and what could be done better.

    ‘I think those are more valuable,’ said Kaplan, ‘because every student who is present that day will have a say.’

    As a way of sharing thoughts, the web site succeeds, but according to students and professors it should not be a one-stop source for making your schedule.

    ‘That just shows that they haven’t taken News Literacy, who in their right mind would believe one comment? You need multiple sources,’ Hornik said about students who use the site as their only resource.

    Students should do more research into a class, by looking at the course description, looking into the professor’s research, and even going to the professor and asking them about the class.

    ‘I have students who come in asking for next semester’s syllabus,’ said Kaplan, as two students were waiting outside his office, ‘I love when students come in.’

    Along the lines with Rate My Professors are web sites such as Aggies’s list, which lets people rate over 250 types of services such as painters, landscapers and plumbers. There is also Trip Advisor, which offers ratings on different hotels and restaurants. Rate My Professors also has a little sister in the form of Rate My Teachers that compiles ratings of middle and high school teachers.

    ‘I worry that students might take a class because the time is good and professor got three chili peppers on the web site,’ said Zannettis. ‘This is important, this is their education and I wish sometimes that they put more effort into it.’

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