Where the bubble sheets end, more evaluations begin

Category:  News
Thursday, April 14th, 2016 at 12:58 PM
Where the bubble sheets end, more evaluations begin by Tracy Geibel

Bubble sheets can only tell you so much.  When professors want more feedback than their student evaluations provide them with, they might visit ratemyprofessor.com.

Yes. Students are not the only people who turn to this site.  Professors use it, too.

“Every professor has looked up themselves,” Dr. Jean Jones, president of Edinboro's chapter of the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties (APSCUF) and professor in the communications department said.  “We look up ourselves. We look up our peers.  We look up our old professors from when we were in school to see what kind of ratings they have.

Rate My Professor has more than 600 professors rated from Edinboro University, some who no longer teach at the university.  Those listed have anywhere from one to 179 student reviews.  Students rate their professors based on three categories: Helpfulness, clarity, and easiness.  The average of all the reviews gives a letter grade and quality score, or a number from one to five where five is the best score. 

Students can also give their professor a chili pepper if they think he or she is hot.  Each student to submit a review can vote the professor up or down.  When totaled together, if the students who say the professor is hot outnumber those who say the professor is not, the chili pepper will appear on the professor’s rating.  The pepper would be removed if the opposite occurred.

Sophomore, Jayden Long decided to look into the website during his first year of college.  He hoped to find a professor who “taught well and graded decently.”  He was happy with what he found and continues to use the site whenever planning out his class schedules.

“It matched them well,” he said.  “There were a few stray reviews, but for the most part pretty dead on.”

Jones agreed that the site is “not that far off” from reality and thinks it is a valuable resource to students.  She said that when there are enough reviews listed, it can help students find professors that fit their learning style.  However, she warns students to take caution when referencing the site. 

“You have to think about why someone takes the time to post there.  They are either really happy or really unhappy,” she said.

Dr. Terrence Warburton, professor in the journalism and public relations department agreed with Jones.  He said that the majority of the posts, if not all of them, would come from students who especially enjoyed the class or those who especially disliked the class.  It’s the middle, the “average student,” who is underrepresented. 

He explained that one student’s post may say how this is the “best professor they’ve ever had,” but another student might rate the same professor saying that “this is the worst experience I’ve ever had, run away from this professor like your hair is on fire.”

“It’s not a valid sample because not everyone has an equal chance of being included,” Warburton said.  “Some students, maybe a very small percentage, have never heard of it or don’t care about it, some of them can’t be bothered to write a review …[and] some might think they (professors) weren’t that bad but they also weren’t that good, so what difference does it (writing a review) make.”

Random selection, Warburton identified as a significant component in reliable research.  This year, he is chairing the journalism and public relations department evaluation committee.  He said that while Rate My Professor is a potential resource for students, because of the lack of random selection, it could never be used for evaluating faculty members.

He admits that the student evaluation of faculty, which is the piece of the faculty evaluation process that asks for student opinions, isn’t perfect.  The bubble sheets allow students to answer whether or not they agree with a statement, but don’t allow them to provide any reasoning behind their answer. 

Provost Dr. Michael Hannon recognizes the deficiency of the current evaluations and said that an open-ended section is being considered and may be implemented as early as next fall.  Last year, the university also began reporting the ratings more openly, where faculty could see and compare their own results with those of other faculty members.

“This gave the faculty and others some context for how their results compared to others,” Hannon said.

According to Warburton, the ideal way to gather data would be to hold a one-on-one interview with each student.  It would allow the interviewer to ask why a student feels a certain way.  However, he realizes that while this would be immensely beneficial information, such a feat would be almost impossible to achieve. 

“Can you imagine how much time that would take?” he asked. 

As a result, “you make trade-offs,” he continued.  The student evaluation process provides the evaluation committee with helpful data that can reasonably be collected.

Students cannot view evaluations.  Warburton encourages students to look into classes though, to not blindly pick courses and professors when planning a schedule.  They can use tools like Rate My Professor to find the professor who will work best for their learning style. 

He suggested turning to other options before sites like this though.  He emphasized the importance of asking questions.  He said students should talk to their peers. 

“When you ask fellow students about their experiences, you want to ask more than ‘did you like the course or not?’” he said.  “Ask some probing, substantive questions, unless you don’t care.”

If you care about learning, you should ask, “What did you learn?”  If you care about getting a good grade without exerting much effort, you should ask, “What grade did you get?” and “How much work did you have to do?”

“You want to ask the questions that matter to you, so you get the answers that help you make an informed decision,” Warburton said.

Hannon suggested that students meet with professors in the semester prior to taking a class. 

“The same professor can be a great fit for some students, while viewed very negatively by others,” Hannon said. “If a given professor is the only one teaching a class you need and you feel the fit is not good, you can still prepare yourself for success in the class by getting assistance with learning and testing skills through the Academic Success Center or through advice from your faculty advisor.”

Unless reviewers on Rate My Professor provide reasoning behind their opinions, you can’t find your answers there.  That’s why Warburton and Hannon believe you should do your own research. 

Warburton says the more people you speak with the better. 

“You can take five or six stories people tell, and decide what’s best for you,” Warburton said.

If students do that, they can make the best decision for themselves.

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