OPINION: It’s Time to Research Instructors Beyond RateMyProfessors

The Spring 2021 catalog was released a few weeks ago, which means that it’s almost time to register for classes. There are a variety of factors that go into choosing what class to take, but the professor can be a huge factor. During this time, many students, including myself, turn to RateMyProfessors, a website where students can anonymously review professors. I have personally taken professors with poor RateMyProfessors reviews. Some of the instructors weren’t the best and some of them were phenomenal. On top of that, I’ve taken some professors with stunning reviews and I felt like they could have been significantly better. Overall, I have found that RateMyProfessors isn’t always accurate. This is why I believe it’s time to research classes and instructors beyond RateMyProfessors. Here, I will cover three things to keep in mind about RateMyProfessors, alternative ways to research instructors, and one piece of advice if you’re going to continue to use RateMyProfessors.

Three things to keep in mind about RMP:

1.       Anyone can write a review on RateMyProfessors.

When browsing RateMyProfessors, it can be really easy to assume that every reviewer is a student of the professor and has only written one review. Unfortunately, since it’s an anonymous site, anybody can write as many reviews on an instructor as they’d like. For example, if a student greatly disliked a professor, they could write twenty 1-star reviews to try and bring the professor’s number down. On top of that, nobody has any idea who is behind the review. It could be a student at Bellevue College that took the course, it could be a random person that knows nothing about the professors, or it could even be the professor themselves trying to boost their ratings. None of us know who’s behind the screen of these reviews and that is problematic.

2.       RateMyProfessors does not give the full picture of a professor when looking at the website from a statistical standpoint.

Danielle Jacobson, mathematics professor at Bellevue College, also feels that RateMyProfessors is a poor website statistically.

The sample sizes (number of students who post) that tend to be on there, relative to the number of students each teacher has, is low. In statistics, this is [a] bad sign. The students who post on RateMyProfessors are more likely to have strong opinions on the instructor (whether positive or negative) which leads to voluntary response bias and does not give a good picture of what most of the students experience.

Jacobson shows that RateMyProfessors doesn’t give the full picture of a professor. This was especially shown when she discussed voluntary response bias which is a sample of self-selected volunteers rather than a group of randomly selected people. 

3.       Students can be biased on RateMyProfessors.

Course difficulty can make a huge impact on a professor’s rating. Many students are looking for an easy class that’ll give them an A rather than taking a class that is challenging. If a student was looking for an easy class, but the class was hard, then they might leave a negative rating that doesn’t reflect the experience a student who is looking for a challenging class would have. Jacobson feels that these types of reviews can have an impact on the education system as a whole.

Students are far more likely to leave positive student evaluations and RMP comments when courses are easy. Meaning, if they are not challenged and can easily obtain a good grade, they tend to be happier, and therefore leave better comments. I have met faculty who keep their classes easy and lower standards so that they will get better evaluations. This practice has a negative impact on education in general and is part of the reason why students now face such high-grade requirements when they try to get into programs, and at times, unrealistic expectations of standards they should be held to. 

Looking at this from a diversity lens, reviews can also be biased due to gender, race, accents, etc. A professor’s identity should have nothing to do with how they are assessed, but people’s implicit bias can cause people to make judgements related to one’s identity. Jacobson also brought up that there is often a diversity bias when it comes to gender.

There are countless studies that show female instructors tend to get harsher ratings, as students expect them to be “nurturing and kind,” when their male counterparts may not be held to the same standards. I encourage looking these studies up. It is interesting to me that in an institution where students, faculty, and admin try to be responsive to diversity, students are not mindful of the differences between professors (male, female, other gender, of color, with accents, etc.) and how that could be impactful of what they go through as professors and how they are judged by students. 

It’s obvious that RateMyProfessors has its issues, but that still leaves the question of what to do instead. For many students including myself, I’d prefer to have at least some knowledge about a course and its professor than none. With that said, one helpful alternative is to try and find the syllabus online. Some departments have all their syllabuses on their website while others don’t. If you can’t find the syllabus on the website, I’d try finding the syllabus on Google by putting in the professor’s name, course number, course name, and Bellevue College. Another idea is to ask your classmates about the professor, especially if you’re in a specific program, as your classmates may have taken them before.

After hearing all of this, if you still feel like you need to check RateMyProfessors, be sure to look for trends rather than each post individually. Every single professor will have a student that thought positively of them and will also have a student that thought negatively of them. However, if a large group of the reviews have the same opinion or mention the same thing, that’s much more likely to be relevant. 

When you go to register for classes this spring, take what you read with a grain of salt, and research the professor beyond RateMyProfessors.