College students across the United States, Canada, and the UK rely on Rate My Professors to decide what courses to take. The website allows students to search for professors by name or school, read reviews of their teaching written by other students, and write reviews of their own, rating how a professor teaches course material and how accessible they are, inside and outside the classroom.
Writing for Academe Blog, David A. Varel questioned the usefulness of the popular review platform. Originally, he wrote, official student evaluations, administered by colleges and universities, were produced by students for their professors. These written evaluations provided the professor with direct, substantive feedback on students’ experience in courses, “what worked, what didn’t, what could be improved.”
“These days,” Varel wrote, “evaluations have become increasingly caught up in the neoliberal model of education,” epitomized by Rate My Professors, which is “more quantitative in nature, less substantive, and more clearly intended for administrators to justify actions towards faculty members regarding retention, promotion, and tenure.” This model, he wrote, “fails instructors, and it fails our students.”
When composing a review on Rate My Professors, students rate the course’s difficulty, how likely they would be to retake the course, and the professor as both an instructor and a person. As Varel noted, Rate My Professors encourages students’ subjective responses and positions students to “view themselves as consumers assessing the ‘product’ they received,” a process that is “eerily similar to surveys sent out to customers of major corporations.”
The evaluation process could be made more meaningful, Varel wrote, if it challenged students to consider “the hallmarks of good teaching.” In this view, professors owe students “not satisfaction and ease but competency, clarity, and professionalism.”
The Rate My Professors website boasts that it hosts reviews of 1.7 million professors from some 7,500 colleges and universities, and that “more than 4 million college students” use it each month. Rate My Professors also acknowledges that the reviews it hosts may not be valid or reliable: “Considering the reality of our digital age… we’re unable to fully confirm our users’ identities, the truthfulness of their contributions, or their student or class enrollment status.” Because Rate My Professors does not authenticate reviewers’ identities, there is simply no way to know whether reviewers have actually taken the courses they are reviewing.
Corporate news outlets have yet to cover the limitations of the Rate My Professors rating system and how it promotes a consumer mindset regarding students’ higher education experiences.
Source: David A. Varel, “How and Why Colleges Should Reform Student Evaluations” Academe Blog, February 2, 2022.
Student Researchers: Lucia Beurer, Cailee Burke, Kaitlyn Goyetch, and Lizzy Usher (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)