The rate debate

by James Hearne

Horizon Reporter

“One of the best math teachers I’ve ever had.”

“Some people are so hardcore it is ridiculous- she is a w*#tch!”

“I found her lectures to be very helpful and the material understandable.”

“Diabolical fiendress who mutilates, then devours students for pleasure…”

These are just some of the comments, for math instructor Daphne Sluys, on Rate My Professors ( Sluys, who also runs Whatcom Community College’s math center, chuckles at some of the comments, even as she shakes her head.

“Gosh, here’s one with a lot of spelling mistakes,” she says. “What kind of student is this, I wonder?”

The website, started in 1999, has a database of professors and other teaching faculty, complete with student-submitted ratings, and comments. Of course, this includes the faculty of Whatcom Community College.

Sluys said that one of her biggest complaints is that rating terms such as “flexibility”can mean different things to different people. She noted that one student accused her of not being flexible because she wouldn’t allow him to retake a test.

Some instructors have a different perspective on the site. Take Dr. Dominique Coulet Du Gard. An anthropology instructor, she scores 4.4 under “overall quality” and has such comments as, “Dr. Coulet is an awesome teacher. She is an expert in her field. Why doesn’t WCC hire her full time?”

Coulet said she has not checked her profile in quite a few years, though she is flattered by the glowing comments that fill her profile. She also acknowledges that the site has its uses, but says that students should take a lot of what they read on the site with a grain of salt. “It’s a service for and by students,” she said.

“Students make of it what they want,” Coulet added.

Coulet went on to say that she has heard of low ratings on the site leading to problems for instructors. “Students will avoid low-scoring instructors, and class enrollment will drop.”

Guy Smith, who teaches communication studies, does keep up a little bit more with his ratings on the site, although he said he’s trying not to. His “overall quality” score is 4.7. Smith said that the site is basically the internet version of what he and his schoolmates used to do.

“We talked to each other,” Smith said. “It’s always good to talk to people.” He also says that, much like Facebook is an optimization of keeping in touch with friends and family, Rate My Professor is a way of exchanging information about teachers and professors.

Smith does say that he has seen a few comments whose veracity he questions. “I’ve seen some comments posted there and thought, ‘There is no way in hell that’s accurate.”

Tony Will, another Communication Studies instructor, says that the student evaluations, which are administered on a regular basis, serve the same function, in theory. Will, who has a 4.4, also says that student evaluation comments tend to be more focused on the quality of instruction, whereas Rate My Professor is more about how easy that teacher is to get along with.

“Is this teacher fun? Is this teacher pleasant to be around? Is this teacher nice?” Will said. “That’s what the evaluations on Rate My Professor tend to focus on.”

Plenty of students, at least at Whatcom, have either never heard of the site, or simply don’t use it that often.

Gino Sahagun, a Whatcom student, said that he has consulted Rate My Professor, but does not use it to determine which classes he takes. He said he left a comment recently. “I said he was a nice guy, but a little unprepared,” he said.

Andrew Rivas said that he does go to the site, to learn what his professors are like, but does not leave comments. “I just like to check them out beforehand,” he said.

Shawn Chantaboune says that he looks at a professor’s ratings, but does not rate them himself. He said he looks at the comments for “teaching styles, lessons, what to expect.”

“It doesn’t help me choose what professors I take a class with,” Chantaboune said, “but it does give me information on what professors I’ve already decided on.”

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