Popular site offers limited scope of classroom experience

The deadline is rapidly approaching and you have no other choice but to finally sit down and pre-register for fall courses, but how, among all the many other concerns of preregistration, do you know which professors to take classes with?

Though the course catalogue arrived in your mailbox at the start of summer, you chose to delay this task for as long as possible considering each time you decided to sit down and log onto Ask Banner, you were probably inundated by a swarm of concerns: Psychology or Sociology? Four credits or five? Try to fulfill all three of your graduation requirements in the first semester or wait until the spring?

With every attempt you made to get this obstacle over with, you were inevitably distracted by an extensive debate over the ranking order of your freshman seminar courses, or the struggle to commit to a class which started earlier than 10:30 a.m.

However, upon arriving to Vassar for freshman orientation, you would soon discover that you were doing it all wrong. As you stressed yourself out over developing a well balanced schedule, the answer to your madness was only a URL away: RateMyProfessors.com .

Since its debut in 1999, RateMyProfessors.com has stemmed into a world-wide phenomenon for college students. Affiliated with over 8,000 academic institutions, RateMyProfessor is an outlet that invites students to seek out the (sometimes ugly) truth about professors and their teaching methods. The site is formatted so that each professor receives a rating (out of five stars) in addition to a list of posts where students publicize anecdotes and input from their experiences within the classroom.

Many Vassar students consider RateMyProfessors to be a vital aspect of the course registration process; in fact, several students are only willing to commit to a course after they have throughly assessed a professor’s online evaluation.

Now in her third semester at school, Sarah Roberts ’17 stated, “I use it every time I register for classes, many times it’s a huge factor in my ultimate scheduling decisions.”

The website’s influence has become so prevalent across campus that in some cases these rankings will sway students away from a course despite their interest for the topic.

Paige Auerbach ’18, who just went through the preregistration process herself, admits “Heading into school I intended to take a science course, but my only options were classes taught by teachers with some of the worst ratings, so I opted out.”

The struggle over whether to side with one’s passion for a particular study or the quality of the professor is a two sided conflict that many Vassar students find themselves stuck between.

While a helpful tool, RateMyProfessors should not be used as a determining factor when choosing courses. Some students report that the rating on RateMyProfessors did not match their own opinion of the professor.

Henry Braun ’15, a senior who has used the site many times in his four years, cautions other students not to take the online rating too seriously.

“While it can be interesting to see what people have to say, most students don’t bother writing reviews, and plenty of experiences are not found on the site.” Braun advises. “Ultimately, no experience is more telling than meeting a professor or sitting in on a class in person.”

Furthermore, a great deal of students have encountered a situation where, to their surprise, they have enjoyed a course despite a poor review. Ariella Rosenthal ’18 agrees with Braun that students should be willing to at least try to take classes that interest them even if the professor has a poor rating.

“The site can give you an overall idea, but at the end of the day it will always depends on one’s personal preference.” Said Rosenthal.

Students might get so wrapped up with their own personalized schedule concerns that we can often neglect the impact which RateMyProfessors sheds upon professors throughout campus. Because the website encourages anyone and everyone to submit a review, this public domain receives an eclectic range of feedback—some posts which are comical and others that are outright blunt and rude.

Calvin Lamothe ’17 reported that he once encountered a forum dedicated to mocking the professor they were supposed to be reviewing.

“It was a long list of nicknames and inside jokes which poked fun at a professor throughout the entire length of the course.” Lamothe recounted, he didn’t say whether or not he has continued to use the site.

In many cases, as soon as one student takes the initiative to start discussing the elephant in the room (which could be a bad grade or personal dislike of the professor), it sparks a domino effect which can leads to pages of unfiltered criticism towards the professor in question.

A great deal of students will attest to the fact that after receiving an ambiguous bad grade, many build up an urge to return the favor to their professor with a dramatic online evaluation. Moreover, many students believe that the more they can encourage peers to post about a specific teacher, the more influence they will have over the teacher’s teaching style.

One student—who wished to be quoted anonymously—admits “I have been in classes where classmates and I have posted about a professor’s rigid grading technique in the hopes that this professor might ease up on upcoming assignments.”

While the website is reliant upon posts created by college students, it ultimately revolves around faculty. This leads one to wonder— what do professors at Vassar think about RateMyProfessors.com?

Professor Jonathon Kahn, the chair of the  Department of Religion, said, “My sense is that professors read or have read at some point or another their rankings.”

Although Kahn believes most of his fellow faculty have probably taken a look at their own RateMyProfessor page at one point or another, he doesn’t think that they take it too seriously or check it very often.

“I can’t say, though, that I think it is something that professors do too often.” Kahn said.

Furthermore, does Vassar’s faculty find the site to be as beneficial as its students claim?

Professor Kahn continued, “I’m not sure that the site gives a student any more information than a very quick informal poll of his or her peers would. So I don’t think it adds a great deal of value.”

In Kahn’s opinion, not only can students get the same information just be talking with their friends, but the information is also probably more reliable.

“On the other hand, the site can be used for ill: there are tendencies toward unnecessarily hurtful or exaggerated comments. So to the degree that students use it to vent, I think the site can be unhelpful and distorting.” Kahn said.

While RateMyProfessor is controversial, there is no denying its prevalence on college campuses throughout the nation, particularly at Vassar. Since so many students utilize the site in their decision making processes, it’s important to keep all the facts in mind and remain as informed as possible.

As Ellie Amicucci ’18 acknowledges, one must take the site’s reviews with a grain of salt, because you can’t really know who’s posting or what their agenda is.

“The posts are all anonymous, and you don’t necessarily know if someone is posting a poor review because they genuinely didn’t like the professor or simply because they gave them a bad grade or had some sort of personal issue with them.” Said Amicucci.

Braun, Kahn and Amicucci all agree: reading the reviews may help, but it is also important to talk to friends, or introduce yourself to a professor and gauge what taking a class with that person would be like. Most importantly, don’t opt out of a class you really want to take because of one bad review.

Four years go by in the blink of an eye, and you don’t want to look back with regret simply because they trusted a website with equal credibility (and the potential longevity) of MySpace. With that said, rate (honestly) away!

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