Dot Physics

So, I was in the student computer lab helping a student with a numerical calculation. I couldn’t help notice the student next to me was registering for classes. Here is here strategy:

  • Look at required courses.
  • Check available classes.
  • Check ratemyprofessor.com.
  • Re-check available classes.
  • Repeat.

So? What is wrong with this? I see a couple of problems. First is the reliability of ratemyprofessor (RMP). I have not looked at my ratings on this site in a long long time, but I am sure they are not accurate. My favorite RMP comment: Dr. Allain teaches astronomy 101 like it was a 400 level physics course. HA! That is so funny. There is essentially no math in my astro 101. I think RMP comments are biased towards disgruntled students. I could be wrong.

Second, I think a lot of students are looking for “easy” instructors. Is this a good idea? If you think the goal of college is to get good grades, I guess it is a good idea. However, I like to think of college as a time of academic growth. If this is true, finding an easy instructor would be like finding an easy trainer at the gym.

“Can you recommend a good trainer?”

“Yes. Take Bob, he is totally easy. You won’t even sweat when you workout with him”

I guess this is why students explode in anger when (for scheduling reasons) we change the faculty teaching the course.

Comments

  1. #1 Jim
    March 20, 2009

    Yes, but in reality, the trainer at the gym will not have any un-erasable long-term impact on your career. You could go to an easy trainer for a semester, not improve your backhand, and then get a harder trainer the following semester and be king of the tennis court.

    Twenty years from now, your tennis partners will not be requesting signed and sealed records of your performance under the bad (easy, in this case) trainer. Twenty years from now, the bad grade you earned because you took a class with the hardest of the hardcore professors will still be haunting you every time you drag out your transcripts.

  2. #2 Kevin Sooley
    March 20, 2009

    I find that it’s much easier to grow academically if you have a prof who is not a stupid asshole. I had to take fortran last semester and it’s my worst mark in my academic career. My friend who was failing with a 40 come midterm break dropped it and is retaking it this semester. He now has a 85, and there is a different prof. My friend is just as busy as he was last semester, but the different professor makes a huge difference. If a class is really hard for no reason it’s a lot harder to retain the information, at least for me, because it’s very unpleasant. Additionally, “easiness” is not the only thing on RMP. A boring prof also makes things a lot harder, and on who can barely speak the language even more so.

  3. #3 Al
    March 21, 2009

    I am a Canadian high school physics teacher and I get comments like “he’s too hard”, “assigns too much homework” and so on on Rate My Teacher. Those students who don’t waste their time whining and do their homework and pay attention in class, tend to do rather well on our province-wide standardized exams and I have fewer people failing (percentage-wise)than the provincial average. Sheer co-incidence, I’m sure.

  4. #4 Kevin Sooley
    March 22, 2009

    I’d like to add to my previous.

    Given what i’ve already said, there is also a nontrivial percentage of students who are really just lazy and want good grades. I notice this particularly in the chemistry and biochemistry faculties at my university.

  5. #5 Dave
    March 23, 2009

    Having obtained a handful of degrees (3) over the last few decades, I feel somewhat qualified to comment. However, all of my degrees were obtained well before the RMP site was created (and, most were even created before the internet!); back in my era, computers were things you fed punched cards into, and retrieved output on “watermelon” paper. But, even back then, there were rumors about professors that were circulated on campus.

    It’s pretty easy to disregard the “Oh, he’s hard.” type of comments, though, as mostly coming from lazy/inept students. But, more serious comments about “He’s hard to understand.” or “He mumbles.” definitely deserved attention (or, at least, a change in your usual seating preference!). Even more serious, still, were the comments about “He doesn’t understand the material himself.”.

    Thus, I never hesitated to take a class under a professor who was “hard” but fair (actually, I even looked forward to those classes, since I tended to learn more). But, I definitely shied away from professors who had a problem relating the information to students. But, perhaps the most scary of all were the new professors. There were no rumors to indicate how they behaved, and they usually had few expectations of what it was to be a student (Had this information been erased from their brains at some point?). Some turned out to be great, others atrocious, but you could never guess which.

    Perhaps some of the best professors I had were the ones who had had “real world” experience. These guys seemed to know what was important, and what wasn’t, and could concentrate on the important stuff. Plus, they were able to spice their presentations up with real world examples (Not to mention how to deal with obnoxious VPs who always wanted to change engineering drawings, thus leading the engineers to intentionally leave the lock washers out of an assembly, just so the VP could prove his worth by changing the drawing to include the lock washers!).

    Dave

  6. #6 Kevin
    March 29, 2009

    Some universities actually publish, online, the evaluation data for each faculty member. I think this is a good idea because frankly, some professors do suck and some do not.

    Some students are looking for an easy way out, this is true. But I suspect that at least some portion of that group is trying to make the gen-ed requirements as trivial as possible. It doesn’t necessarily reflect on them as people. Ideally everyone would be interested in everything, but some people don’t like one subject or another and so why make it harder than it has to be.

  7. #7 Alexandra
    April 1, 2009

    As a current student, I feel I can accurately tell you why we use ratemyprofessor…generally it has nothing to do with laziness, it has to do with what kind of workload we’ll be looking at for the semester. If I’m taking 3 very difficult classes for my major, do I really want a professor who likes to assign busy work for a general education requirement? not really. University education is the point at which one decides to focus in on a particular study, so why should I get a poor grade in a class that I know I won’t be able to give as much focus to. I know you all want us to take your classes the most seriously, but that’s not very realistic when thought about logically, is it? And professors have different styles, so if I know I’m a visual learner, why would I take a course with someone who doesn’t teach in a way from which I can learn the best? And I have written good reviews for my professors on the site, so i don’t think it’s there just to whine. Perhaps you should look at your comments in as unbiased a way as possible, and try and find what some of your actual faults might be. Then maybe you wouldn’t be looking at so many bad reviews

  8. #8 Dan
    April 1, 2009

    In response to Jim – yes, grades MAY be important in reality, but don’t you think that points at the fallacy of our educational system? I’ve gone to school with plenty of idiots who graduated with honors simply because they were either asskissers or loaded their schedule chock full of non-challenging classes. Grades can never completely reflect the intelligence of the individual who possesses them. By your argument, a student should perhaps take “easy” classes just to get a good grade on their transcript and risk learning nothing in the process. A “B” or “C” can mean something far more if it was earned through hard work in a difficult course. We should judge the student on their intellectual growth and ability to make a positive contribution to their society with the knowledge they have gained.

    Gen-eds are a good example of this. As another poster hinted at, university education in theory is supposed to be a focused, specialized education in a student’s chosen field. Suppose a student whose focus is in literature takes an especially diffcult class in science as the result of a poor choice in the course selection lottery. Is it fair to let the student struggle with a class he has no need for simply to get a good grade at the expense of focusing on his area of interest?

    Yes, there are plenty of idiots who post on Rate My Professor, but that is the case with any online forum open to the general public. I believe it is an important tool that allows students to review the choices available to them before they select, much like a consumer review website where a potential buyer can evaluate reviews. A professor’s class is very much an investment that needs to be carefully weighed out before entering in to.

  9. #9 Alicia
    April 5, 2009

    I am an adult student (over 40) returning to college. I have used rate my professor a few times. In some instances, I have taken classes from teachers with good ratings, and to my great pleasure, the reviews have been accurate. I have also taken classes from teachers with poor reviews, mainly because they were the only teacher available, and I really needed the class. Sorry to say, the students were right. One professor was an asshole, and one other one was boring and did talk about his kids all the time, instead of the subject matter, but still expected us to know what was in the book. I still have a 4.0, but I would have rather avoided those professors.

    What you don’t give us credit for is having the intelligence to discern a digruntled, lazy student from a good one, but the site I viewed also asks the student what grade they got. If the teacher got majority A+ ratings, and I see one student who gave them an F, and that student got a D in the class, then I can tell that is a disgruntled student.

    Actually the reviews are pretty good, they mention language barriers, teachers who will not slow down to make sure the students understand, and other comments. All I can say is that if you are not getting good reviews, from a number of people, it’s like the saying goes, “They can’t all be wrong”. Maybe it’s time to take a look in the mirror, or accept that your classes may not be as full as the next teacher’s class next semester. Just something to think about.

    I wish I had rate my professor when I got my first degree, I could have avoided a lot of pain, suffering, and dings to my GPA.

  10. #10 Al
    April 5, 2009

    Detailed (good or bad) comments are always useful. Comments about teaching styles are very important. If I was going to register for an intro level course and the only comments fell into the catagories of “easy marks” and “a breeze”, I may not sign up for that prof’s section. My primary concern would be the follow-up course to come. Easy marks in the pre-req. doesn’t translate into a good understnading of the material some times.

  11. #11 ken
    June 8, 2009

    well, I just wanted to say, easy doesn’t always mean a cake walk!
    I would do 10 – 15 assignments a week if the instructor knows how
    to teach to each and everyones different levels of learning.
    simply put in “laymens terms”
    If Einstien were graded on a college level he would have fail college to.
    Never the less he would have made the worst weapon the earth has known to date.
    if he had a teacher who knew how to teach in a simple step by step manner….
    the Best teacher I ever had were the ones in high school, that would stay after
    school on their time to make sure you understood the material and could do the
    work with their help.

    college instructors I have had in the past are writing their own text books,
    work a regular full time job. (in other words, Being a professional in a field Makes them a INSTRUCTOR. NOT!!!) their ego is too big for their puney little heads.

  12. #12 Gwedough
    June 26, 2009

    Ken…that’s the problem…you want professors to teach to the assignment. But realy life isn’t like that. Our goal as professors is to teach you to think critically and independently. That means taking what you are learning needs to be independently applied to assignments. Than grading is done to determine, from your application of the information to the assignment, how well you’ve understood the information and learning delivered.

    Regarding RMP..my ratings run from “best professor ever” to “worst professor ever”. I’ve taught nearly 5000 students in the last 5 years (yes 30-40 classes a year)and have less than 20 ratings…yet the ones where they call me a jerk, claim I’m rude, yet provide no evidence or information to support their claims should be suspect.

    I liken RFP to a bathroom wall where any anonymous individual can say whatever they want even if it’s untrue. Should RFP add a requirement that posters provide factual evidence or information to support their claims than it would be worthwhile for other students to pay attention to.

  13. #13 Bobby
    August 28, 2009

    I have a little different take on the professor situation. I started as an ASL (American Sign Language) interpreter at a local University in 1992. Since then i have worked at 3 other local community colleges however still spend most of my time at the main University where i started. I have volunteered for up to 9 classes a week (in my younger days) today i do 4 a week. Over 20 years i estimate that comes out to around 800 hours in class or the equivelant of 6 bachelors degrees as neither a teacher nor a student. It is from this perspective that i believe i can lend a somewhat neutral hand. When i went to college in the late 60′s many of the professors were relics of a bygone era, and maybe students of today believe the same thing. The difference however i have seen in my last 20 years of volunteering has been amazing! Long gone are most of the professors that would berate students in class. Also many strides have been made in the areas of equality, especially for students with learning disabilities. The tenured hack that fell asleep in class and smelled of bourbon and smoked like a freight train is no more. (in fact i bet you couldnt find a school in the country where smoking is allowed in the classroom)

    There are however a new breed of professor that is as destructive to our students as the old. Young TA’s who might know their subject very well but have no idea how to teach have been moved into the classroom to teach kids who have no idea how to learn. This combination is terrible. Add to this equation a professor who might have a heavy accent and you can see how problems can occur.

    I dont mean to criticize professors at all, it really is a tough job and most could make far more money elsewhere, but many teach for the same reason i volunteer…to make a difference. There are professors though that should not be in the classroom. Some came late into academia and are trying to become tenured by publishing like crazy and whipping their students like a slave master even though they have no chance. Others have absolutely no compassion for these kids and only chose this profession because they enjoy the subject, these are some of the most dangerous of the lot.

    In all i believe that rate my professor is a tool, just like any other that a student should have at their disposal. One of the classes that i have “taken” probably 20 times is “strategies for learning” a class where students whose cumulative gpa has fallen below 2.5 must go. This class is taught by an elderly professor, a true gentleman whose profession before teaching was “country pursuits” which for those of you not old enough to know that profession meant he was very rich and did nothing. “RB” as i will call him sounds like Foghorn Leghorn from the cartoon and speaks in a loud southern drawl, the kind that unmistakingly drips of generations of wealth and being at the top of the food chain. “I tell you kids right now,” he begins every semester the same way. “Going to college is a lot like making money in the stock market. When you buy a stock which is low in price and sell it at a high price you make money. A smart person reads everything they can about a stock and talks to informed people that have knowledge they ask themselves the question is the stock low or high? The same thing should happen with your studies, ask as many questions of as many people as you can before you take a class so you can make an informed decision. Now you kids get together and talk with each other about what classes you should take and what classes you shouldnt. The first step to getting your grades back on track is making sure you have not bought a stock too high. When your done ill be out there under that oak tree smoking a cigar and the admissions office is open for add/drop untill 5pm. Dont worry about me i have nothing to do till we meet for class tomorrow when ill teach you not how to study for school, but how to learn for life.”

  14. #14 angel
    November 13, 2009

    Easy for you to say. I wonder if you would take your own advice!

  15. #15 RMPlibets
    December 16, 2009

    The problem with RMP is its quality control, you don’t know who’s rating who, and RMP therefore allows for others to bias the ratings in any possible way.

    I’ve taught in the basic physical sciences for most of my whole professional life. On a scale of 1-5, my course ratings have pretty much always run in the 3-4 range.

    I pretty much always have students stretching across the entire domain of humanity. I have students who tackle the process like adults with some getting very good grades and some realizing that the level of effort is just not what they are looking for or what they were expecting. I also have students who wade through the process just getting by and/or those simply hoping for a passing grade for almost no relative effort.

    Without question I have always tried to challenge my students, particularly the best ones. I know that if I made everything easier on everybody I could get departmental ratings of 4′s on average or above. But, that is not my purpose in life and it does no favors to the more highly geared students moving onto higher courses in my disciplines or those having to take extremely competitive exams such as the MCAT.

    So, I have had to accept the range of good comments and good marks together with the range of bad comments and bad marks……basically a range of ratings in line with the normal distribution of the population.

    Surprizingly, for a while, that is exactly what I was getting on ratemyprofessors.com. That is, until this past summer after I’d been out of the classroom for nearly 3 months.

    Without question, I am fully aware of how this all came about.

    I was asked to write a letter of recommendation for a student. I was fine with this and spent quite a bit of time putting something together that I thought would help get them what they wanted to get. The letter was for a B student who’d been just above class average in two of my classes spread over a year.

    Until this event, I’d always let my students review what I was going to submit on their letter and offer them the opportunity to suggest changes and/or reject the letter. To date this had all worked out fine and everybody was quite pleased with what I provided them.

    The student at hand had communicated promptly on a number of occasions UNTIL THE VERY POINT at which I gave the student the draft letter. Nearly a month passed before the student finally responded and said they were not interested in using the letter and felt it would do them no good. Instead of suggesting appropriate changes or even being specific about what they didn’t like, they seemed to just lecture to me. (I know for a fact that it was a better letter than one I’d written for another student who was in the same two classes and was accepted into the same post-graduate program that this student was applying.)

    In that return email to me, the student explicitly said, “I know you are trying to be as honest as possible but I thought letters of recommendation were supposed to be different than this.”

    That very afternoon, and for the next month, my RMP account began getting hit regularly with extremely negative ratings. Some ratings were racially sensitive, some involved name calling, some were for courses I never taught and were also never taught at the university I was then teaching. Some were downright personal challenges!

    Some of my previous good ratings were also questioned, obviously by the same perpetrator, and some have remained “rating under review.” The problem with this is I know for a fact of two such ratings that were made by two specific students and when they were made. The only basis RMP has to keep these good ratings “under review” is a disgruntled student, nothing else. Not only is RMP allowing its website to libel someone, it is doing so in a very dangerously biased manner.

    Early on I challenged some of the negative ratings and some were removed. But it became a daily matter and I later decided it was not me who should be policing this public humiliation of a professional doing his/her job. Instead I have placed the issue in the hands of a better mind that deals with such matters. In due time, RMP will learn that the process it promotes as a forum for freedom of speech is also one in which legal lines are being allowed to be improperly crossed.

    I will recognize RMP for one thing. I learned that letters that I write should not always be shared with the students I write them for. If a student is unquestionably an A student I will continue to allow the process to be one in which we both refine what it is I will be saying. If the student is on the lower side of the A scale or in the B ranges, I will offer to write a letter (and it will be a good one) but will only do so with a strict waiver of confidentiality. If the student is in the C ranges and below, as always, I will simply suggest they find another reference.

    Until RMP better controls the quality of its ratings process, it is nothing more than a cheap online forum that provides for an avenue of anonymous sleeze awaiting the litigation process.

  16. #16 CBoaten
    March 26, 2010

    I’m a non-traditional student. I’ve used RMP since the first time I heard of it. I rate every professor, not just my favorites and least favorites, and I keep reviews in mind when I register. I also ask others who have already taken classes for their opinions, and I even ask professors whose teaching style I like what their recommendation would be for the higher-level classes in the subjects they teach.

    Out of every review I’ve given, I’ve only given one bad one, and it wasn’t for class difficulty. It was a professor who was disrespectful to me to an degree which was patently unprofessional on the very first day of class. As an adult, I expect a certain level of human respect from everyone I meet. Every person deserves respect, and professors should act with professional dignity.

    I’ve entered many reviews which said things like “There is a lot of work in this class, and it is not easy, but you will learn and this professor is more than willing to help students.” Or: “this professor can be hard on students because he is very passionate, but taking this class is an experience everyone should have.” Nothing unfair about that!

    Every student is unique. What may be great for one student could be absolutely horrible for another. That’s why we need a variety of options for discerning a particular professor’s teaching style, and whether it will mesh well with our learning styles. Please give us credit for being able to see through those reviews that say things like “this teecher is awwful! Too much humework and stodying! I mad a “d” and I just no I am a jeenyus!”

    I have learned to look out for a few things, not just on RMP but from other students and professors at my school: If everyone says a professor is “boring,” as silly as it sounds, I want to find one instead with reviews like “makes course interesting!” If I am bored stiff I will not pay attention. A professor with “no review/study guide before tests!” is fine with me; so is a professor who is “very opinionated” or “difficult grading scale,” as long as “rude” is not one of the recurring themes. “complicated subject matter” is fine, as well! “really doesn’t like students” is NOT. I just want a professor who is respectful to his or her students (tell us we are wrong, but don’t call us names)and who is GOOD AT TEACHING and passionate about his or her subject. You might be surprised how many there are who do not meet that criteria!

    You must remember that these classes aren’t free, we are paying for them. Some of us will be paying for them for a very long time. I can’t afford to pay for a class from a professor that I am just not compatible with. I will end up withdrawing and paying for it again, later.

    My university has actually changed enrollment for some departments so that students don’t know what professor they are getting until after registration is over. That is patently unfair to students-what about the student who had a professor that he or she just adored last semester, and wants to have the same one this time? Or one who couldn’t handle a particular teaching style, and wants to avoid it? This is how we make decisions in everyday life-based on our experience, and those of others. Why should choosing which class to take be any different?

    And THAT is why, when instructors get changed, students get upset. Choosing a professor is a personal and dangerous process-everyone has looked forward to a class, only to get a lousy professor who absolutely ruined the subject matter-or, as I have several times, dreaded a class, but had a professor who made me love it through passion and determination.

    For those of us who are REAL students, who want to learn and not just make the grade, a professor makes the difference between learning or not. If no one- NO ONE-wants to be in a professor’s class, I’m sorry, but it says something about the professor. Teaching is about communicating what you know to others-not just knowing it.
    I don’t understand why we don’t want to admit that some people are just better at communicating than others?