Last Thursday, while eating breakfast with some students who were set to graduate that evening, several asked me if I ever looked at the website, “Rate my professor” -designed to assist students in choosing good (easy?) professors- to find out what students were saying about me. This is not the first time I have been asked this question and my response is generally along the lines of, “No, what is the point? In fact, please go on and talk shit about me so my classes will stay smaller.” Yet this is the short answer. This blog entry will provide you with the long one and you will know why I believe such a site should be taken with a grain of salt at best. In the end, feel free to rate this blogger.
Human beings are fascinating creatures. We are likely the only ones that are capable of both great acts of selfless altruism (think Mother Theresa and Ghandi) as well as great acts of atrocities (think Boston marathon bombers and Hitler, not necessarily in that order). We are the species that will sacrifice our lives to help others while also being capable of killing innocent children for no good reason –yet I cannot think a good reason to ever kill a child, our species has groups, extreme Islamic fundamentalists and psychotics, that may argue otherwise.
A scary and mysterious breed we are indeed.
I believe there are two concepts that are great predictors as to whether our collective altruistic side OR our dark side will manifest itself. The first is the idea of ACCOUNTABILITY. When we are held accountable to our ideas and actions we tend to think through them with much greater scrutiny and consideration. With few exceptions (Nazi Germany being a main one) when we must share our plans and opinions, such sharing will bring about critical analysis and with this analysis comes a greater accountability and likelihood of an effective outcome.
You know, like if I decide to share my plan of action to shoot up the local elementary school with my recovery group, someone will likely opine that this is a really, really bad idea.
Study after study (see Social Facilitation Theory) demonstrates the improved performance of collaborative over individual decision-making. Question: If one wants to improve a performance in ANY given area of life? It’s easy…have an audience. We do better when others are watching.
As far as we know, the Unabomber, Boston marathon bombers, Timothy MacVeigh or Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro did not work by democratic committee. Such atrocious acts are usually the result of an individual or small group of like-minded individuals, spending too much time in their isolated own head(s) conjuring up schemes without having to express said schemes to any opposing entities for an alternative opinion.
What does this have to do with rate my professor? Patience dear reader.
Likewise, when one is held accountable and their plans and ideas are revealed to the masses, plans tend to flow in the opposite direction. Professional athletes hire publicists to ensure their plans to donate thousands of dollars are well documented while reporters are conveniently available when acts of kindness are performed.
Strong accountability continues to be both the strongest deterrent to really bad ideas as well as the greatest motivator for really great ideas; namely ones of kindness and altruism.
The second idea is the opposite to the first and that is ANONYMITY. When human beings are able to work anonymously, the threat of very dangerous results looms ever so strongly. Yes, we do hear of the occasional very generous donor who gave anonymously to a cause, RARELY. In the great majority of cases of large generous donations, for example, not only is the person known, the building is also named after them. Conversely, when one is able to act under the guise of “anonymous,” our darker sides tend to rise to the top. Studies suggest that anonymity can be a real problem insofar as deviant behavior is concerned.
Perhaps the single greatest predictor of effective decision-making and ethical behavior is accountability. Conversely the greatest predictor in poor decision-making and unethical behavior is under the condition of anonymity.
Quite frankly, I am not interested in hearing the opinions of those who hide under the veil of anonymity. In my blogs I am not shy in offering my opinions, insights and beliefs and I will stand by them because I am accountable to them. You know who I am. Hell, my little cute picture of me with my handlebar mustache is right up there at the top right for your enjoyment. I will defend my words. Sometimes my words will be right; sometimes they will be wrong. Sometimes my words are well stated; sometimes they are, uh, how can I say it? Uhm, ah…NOT well stated.
In any case, these are my words and I stand by them and am held accountable to them. I care as much about anonymous people’s opinions as I do about eating or drinking something of unknown content that came in plain white packaging with no label of ingredients. It could be absolutely delightful or it could be poisonous and insidious; though, in either case, I am just NOT interested.
Hence, the very long road to “rate my professor” and my ponderings. Back when I was in college we had our version of “rate my professor” and that was sharing our opinions face to face with others. Unless we heard of a professor through the grapevine, we knew the source of the information and often we considered the source of the information before we considered the information itself…after all, the medium is the message.
You know, if it was the screw-off complaining of a prof you would ignore her -yet if it was a solid and trustworthy student, you listened very carefully.
To be blunt, people who act anonymously and are not held accountable drive me nuts. I love those who disagree with me on something I may have said or done, though have the decency AND THE BALLS to stand behind it and express disagreement! I love honesty. Anonymity has the tendency to turn fairly nice people rather mean, rather fast.
And feel free to disagree with me…yet you must provide your identity and email address. I would not have it any other way.
Oh, and my students said I apparently have a chili pepper after my name indicating I am hot. I suppose “rate my professor” may not be such a bad site after all. Wink.
Once again, I can not disagree with the content but did you ever consider that a chemical in the ‘chili pepper’ is used to make pepper spray…a non-lethal weapon. Somehow, I still think it might an appropriate symbol after your name, hot shot.
With all the damn wisdom contained in this blog, why is everyone focusing on the damn chili pepper?
A chili pepper, huh? Now see, I would have picked a cucumber. Otherwise, everything else sounds about right. Unanonymously yours, Sandy
The vegetable is the sites choice. I guess I should not ask why you picked a cucumber. So “Ms. Accountable”….why a cucumber?
Because you’re cool, of course.
I agree, the site needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
I looked at this site – even before taking your class. I found it interesting to have such contriversial comments about the same instructor.
The site itself is what makes the ratings anonymous. One just fills in the bubble to rate and does not ask for email address or name, just verify what is in the box.
I have been blessed to have instructors like you, T.L. Brink, Ted Phillips and Jane Beitscher while at Crafton. All are their own person, with their own style of teaching the college student, not high schoolers. You have all made us (the student) accountable for our learning, not handed to us on a silver platter.
So if the comments and ratings make it easier to pick which instructors don’t challenge a student to grow, so be it –
Which will leave the ‘cream of the crop’ of students for your classes that honestly want to learn, grow and enrich their learing experience.
Thanks for the kind comments Joyce. As an instructor my primary goal is to be EFFECTIVE. It is not to be liked, hated, or even thought about much…some times you have to get out of the way for students to learn. That being said, our learning styles will often dictate the types of instructors that are effective or ineffective for each of us an individuals. As far as “easy” or “hard” -again, it is about effectiveness and equipping students with the tools to be successful at the University level. As an instructor, I must say that when “older” and wiser students such as yourself come along, it makes our job a heck of a lot easier! Thanks again for the comment.
A non-anonymous rating
Commst 100, Fall 2013
Enthusiastic and believes in what he is teaching. I am now persuaded this class mattered more than many others I have taken. It taught me how to communicate effectively and with purpose. + 2 chili
Direct and puts you on the spot. Thin skin won’t win simply because you won’t hang around long enough to. +1 chili, (-1 chili if you can’t handle the heat)
Strict on attendance and tough grader. +1 chili if you like an academic challenge that helps you progress, (- 1 chili if you are not willing to try for higher standards)
Opinionated but open minded. If you are not then you will likely be offended by his style. +1 chili if you think cognitive dissonance is a useful thing (-1 chili if you are easily offended)
Total: +5 chili = pretty spicy. If you can’t handle the heat then get the ___out of admissions!
And no I didn’t just focus on the chili.
Fuck do I LIKE this!!!
I am glad. You are a great teacher and as a student thank you for that.
I do not look at the “Rate my Professor” site. In the past, the kids in my classes have spoken of it, but I don’t bother looking at it. I recently took Mrs. Acquistapace’s English 101 class, and it kicked my ass. But, I needed to go over the grammer along with all of the writing. I hate writing because I’m not good at it. She was exactly what I needed. My writing has improved because of her. I don’t dread it as much as I use to. I’m sure the “Rate my Professor” site rated her as being really hard and gives out to much work. I took that as her caring. It takes time to grade that shit.
Thanks for the comment Monique. Back in the day, when I would walk to school barefoot 10 miles uphill in the snow, we all discussed certain professors and classes. The difference was we knew who was making the commentary and critique; thus we could make a decision accordingly based on our perceived credibility of the student. Even then there was probably a dozen times when I was told “never take him or her” and had to due to scheduling and such. Turns out some of the “lowest rated” were often my favorites. I am just waiting for the “Rate my kickboxing instructor” website. 😉
Hi Mr. Urbanovich,
Can you clarify “Adagogical” for me? Was this supposed to be Andragogical or Anagogical? I’m pretty sure you meant Andragogical BUT Anagogical- A mystical interpretation of a word, passage, or text, especially scriptural exegesis that detects allusions to heaven or the afterlife. If you are thinking in a learning and spiritual capacity, this kind of applies in a way too. LOL 😉
“Rate My Professor? Rate THIS: A Psycho-Analytical Look at Adagogical Evaluation through Social Media”
JUST GIVING YOU A HARD TIME =) and just wanting to participate in a blog. Which I need to be rehearsing my speech ATM so gotta go!
I frequently enjoy making up my own words. Its a hobby actually. Penizur…remember?
=) LOL yup. so what would be your definition of this newly created word? 😉 and actually, I forgot what the actual definition of penizur that was used for the urban dictionary entry.
Because the English language is so unfair to promiscuous women with all the horrible names and connotations we give, we decided to create a name for a promiscuous male that reeks of sleazy. A penizur is a male slut. Adagogy refers to the instruction towards members of the ad world. 😉
I really enjoyed this post, one of my favorites I have read thus far. Anyways, I am wondering which of these two behaviors you would describe as our “true” selves? In other words, are we the “real” us when under accountability or when working anonymously? In which case are we being personally dishonest? One could conclude from what you said, that we as humans are horrible people who only do the right thing when we are trying to impress others (which is still a selfish motive). What are your thoughts on that? Is this a false dichotomy? Does our “true” selves incorporate both these behaviors in a strange paradox? Thanks for once again getting my brain churning!
Hey Jordon I love the contributions you make to the blog…thank you! Regarding your comment on the “Confession” blog, interestingly, when I left ministry nearly 9 years ago, I made a deal with myself that I will never argue religion ever again. This is not say I will not express myself on things spiritual, I just do not want to engage in argument on any level concerning religion slash spirituality. I will never try change anyone with what they believe spiritually..believe away. You can ask my opinion and I will share it though if you don’t like it? I really do not care…everyone is free to believe whatever they want. I now believe spirituality is intensely personal and is cheapened by argument. You can can argue with that if you want…I just wont respond 😉 . So who is the real you? They both are the real you in a “strange paradox.” For lack of a better term, the anonymous side is typically the dark side of our self while the public self is us on our better behavior (with exception of course). I believe history has taught us that the human being is both the most inhumane and brutal creature on the planet, while also capable of great acts of altruism. I believe in the concept of accountability…without it we are drawn toward poor and irresponsible behavior. And I will argue this! 🙂
Thanks for responding, regarding “Confession,” I understand, I usually find argument on religion very counter-productive and see why you avoid it. However, when I do argue it, I try to stick towards more of a Rogerian model of argument. I find the Toulmin model always ends in frustration for the two sides. I must have misunderstood you in class, as I thought you wanted me to disagree with you, but oh well. I also understand that since you have a Master’s degree in Theology and years of life experience, you probably have heard it all already and hearing the same repeated arguments on religion is just tiring. Anyways, I like your concept of our duel nature expressing itself differently depending on our accountability, I think it is a slightly fresh take on the “man’s condition” debate. I’ll have to keep thinking it through, but I think your theory rings true on a more day-to-day level then many theories on Man’s nature.
Now, i have used “Rate My Professor” many times; every time it has provided me with a great professor. Although, I believe the credibility of the site is now non-existent after being in your class. Let’s be honest, I’m in a rush to get my studies done and communications 100 is a required course. Your class was the only one i found doable with my busy and demanding work schedule. I entered your name into the, once trustworthy, website and found less than flattering results. I almost backed out as i didn’t want an “asshole” to critique me so “harshly.” But, I decided to bear down and try it. What’s the harm? I’m a thick skinned individual who enjoys a good conflict. Now after the first few weeks, I wish i would have waited until Fall semester to take your class. You offer so much knowledge and are a “professor-of-the-students.” You only do what is best for us, even if it is putting us on blast. You care about our communication skills and i thank you for that. I am genuinely saddened that this course is only 5 weeks.
I will still continue to use “Rate My Professor,” but i will take it with a grain of salt from now on. Besides, it can teach students to do some research and make more informed decisions, right? 😉
Well, to be fair, I do ask many of my classes to go to “Rate My Professor” and talk shit about me…and many have taken me up on it. Why? I would prefer to keep my classes small (though in this day of fewer offerings that does not happen) and I want students who are serious about improving their communication skills. As you know, I also like to defeat stereotypes and prejudice…just as you have done. Thanks for the compliments Adam!
I have definitely used Rate my Professor in the past, not to decide which class to take based on easiness, but instead more so on what to expect. Last semester I had Jane Beitscher. On rate my professor, most of the students said that she was an awful professor and didnt teach well. My experience with her was fantastic. I loved the class and how she taught. I think that how most students use RMP is stupid and is taking the easy way out in their education, something that should be taken much seriously and with determination
Thanks Erica. I really have no problem with students giving their honest appraisal of professors. My problem is that it is anonymous…which, as I say in my blog, is a dangerous combination: Internet+Anonymity=Shittiness. Back in the good old days, we had “rate my professor” in the form of live and personal conversations with friends. Thus we knew the source, had a context for the critique and their was great accountability as you could go back to your friend to opine if they were right or wrong in your experience.
On another note, most of those who leave their cute little “ad hominem” negative comments on this blog do provide the required email address….though it is untraceable and bullshit. Rest assured, I will not never approve posts that are anonymous and/or do not argue the argument rather attack the source. I love disagreement, I cannot stand personal attacks.
Oh, though I have never had Jane as a student, I can say that since she is now retired, and I miss her dearly as a colleague. She is one-of-a-kind and I love that Jewish American (former) Princess!
Although I agree that “evaluations or ratings” should be face to face like it was in the past, it is fair to mention that most professors are not as willing and open to hear the opinions of the students. In your class, the students are privileged with a sense of freedom to speak and ask questions. You are not the evil dictator and we’re not just inferior ordinary mortals… However, in many other classes this is not the case. Some professors are impossible to approach due to their arrogance and sense of extreme superiority. What a bummer. I do not feel like I should have to live in fear of being offended, ridiculed (for asking a genuine question), or reprimanded by my professors and would rather admire and respect them.
I have visited the rate my professor website in the past to genuinely rate my professors and give their potential upcoming students some useful pieces of advice. I have seen that some of the ratings between the students are in complete opposite ends of the spectrum. I can tell which students wrote which ones. The slackers will type something like, “This class was so hard. He has no mercy on us. She is the devil, Do not take this class. It’s too hard for being a 3 unit class, etc.”
Then, there are the ones who give the professors saintly scores which are often times unrealistic.
Can we fully trust the site? Nah, not really. Just like other rating sites (food, travel, businesses, etc), the outcome and success of the experience depends on the consumer’s attitude and the situation. I have seen some of my favorite restaurants blasted in Yelp and some of my favorite professors bashed on ratemyprofessor.
I forgot to mention that when the students do not feel comfortable enough to share their feedback to the professor without fearing retaliation, they are likely to go vent in websites such as the above mentioned. Is this wise, no. Just like it’s not wise to send drunk texts.
My main concern is the anonymity of the contributors of such sites. I believe any site that requires full disclosure of identity concerning feedback is a much more reliable source. Accountability is a wonderful asset when it comes to opinions.
I view rate my professor, and other sites that have anonymous reviews with with a bit of skepticism. And would never use it to pick a course. How can you take what a person says seriously, If a person wont stand behind their own words?
When I began at crafton, I heard about this site and decided to use it to pick my first professors; never again did I let it choose who I would take and who I wouldn’t. I too realized that I shouldn’t listen to someone who wouldn’t give a name to their opinions, and if they couldn’t come forth and own up to it, then maybe it was because they knew they didn’t do what they were asked to in class. Each review is spun in the views of many students that didn’t put in the work. It’s like yelp, people only yelp when they have something to complain about, and us employers don’t have an app that lets us rate our customers. I’ve learned to take a class despite what other students say because often times the review is made from bitterness. I know when I put in work and I know when I half ass. I read your reviews and I’ll admit I was afraid to be put on spot in class, but I took it anyway and I learned that being put on spot helped me with my class communication skills and my speeches. So thank you!
Back in the day, our “Rate My Professor” was simply talking to friends -with the biggest difference being you knew the source of the information. I had friends whose opinion I trusted and others I absolutely did not. Unfortunately this anonymity leaves out the most important aspect any informational communication: the source. Thanks Lauren! You have been an absolute delight this past semester.
FINALLY!!!! something that I can some what disagree with you on (took me 2 hours of searching through your blogs)
anyways although you make a good point regarding people making “unfair” anonymous statements about a teacher which would make sense why you wouldn’t care about what they have to say, I personally have seen the benefits of rate my professor. in a previous chemistry class (intro to chemistry) I had to take a teacher who had a 1.9 rating (with a chili pepper if that makes the situation any better) which from reading the reviews was due to her making student memorize formulas and metric units conversions. which after taking the course I could see why someone would be upset, especially when talking to other student in other classes who had it WAY easier. although it may sound like im whining (perhaps I was) it seemed unjust that the majority of the class was failing because they forgot the conversion between nanometers and decimeters. well someone in the class made a comment to her about rate my professor and she ended up giving the conversions on a piece of paper for every test, which although it did make it “easier”, it only made it easier IF you actually knew how to use it correctly otherwise it was jibberish. my point is, in this case the teacher read what multiple students of hers had to say and she used that to make her course more simpler. By simpler I do not mean easier, I mean the class leaned less toward memorization and more to “how does this work and why does it matter” thus making students UNDERSTAND the material. my overall point is that if the majority of people rate a teacher with a low scored and they all say this teacher was very rude and didn’t offer any help, chances are, that teacher was very rude and didn’t offer any help. Although i do understand at the end of the day rate my professor should be used more as a tool and less of a decision maker.
Hello Miguel…since this is not a purely academic assignment, I will not address your poor use of punctuation…wait I just did! I love your thoughts and I strongly encourage all to attempt to use proper punctuation and grammar (attempt is the key word as we all make mistakes) in order to be taken more seriously. In any case, I really appreciate your thoughts and appreciate your contribution on this blog!
As I mention in the blog, my biggest point of contention with any rating system, of any kind, is the anonymity aspect. People tend to get real shitty, real fast where there is no accountability. I am pleased RMP was used in a positive way in your course with your professor. However the intent of such a site is (to the best of my knowledge at least) not to assist in helping improve instruction only to rate it. Perhaps if there was a feature for students to offer suggestions, that might make the site more in-line with what you are suggesting. Each public higher education institution has an evaluation process in place in which students can not only evaluate though offer suggestions for professors as well. I know each year I was evaluated I eagerly looked forward to this feedback to improve instruction. I think this institutional process, with oversight from peers and administration, is an effective process… while I question whether the anonymous process of RMP is most suitable.
Again, I am very glad it worked out in your situation and I appreciate your thoughts on this matter.