Professors respond to RateMyProfessor ratings
While some students choose not to give their time to mid-term and end-of-year course evaluations, many head online to evaluate their professors in a less formal venue—ratemyprofessors.com.
According to the website, the ratemyprofessors database features more than 8,000 schools and 1.8 million professors from colleges in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom, as well as 15 million student comments with more than four million students commenting each month. Reviewers are able to rank their instructors on a five-point scale in three different categories—easiness, clarity and helpfulness—and an overall score is then calculated based on averages.
Because professors can be one of a student’s biggest registration worries, it’s not surprising that many students use the site to determine if they should take a particular course section to get—or avoid—a specific professor.
Grand Valley State University has many highly rated professors, but a Lanthorn study of still-employed faculty members with more than 100 reviews found five in particular who left positive impressions on their students:
-James Sanford, business – 4.7
-Steeve Buckridge, history – 4.5
-Dennis Stovall, accounting – 4.5
-Corey Anton, communications – 4.4
-David K. Lange, computer science – 4.4
Sanford said he checks his ratemyprofessors page a few times a year but pays significantly more attention to the comments than the numbers. One of the most frequent things students mention is that he has difficult exams—and yet he’s the most highly rated professor at GVSU.
“I think students like a challenging exam,” he said. “I like to think my exams are challenging, not difficult, and they’re fair.”
Sanford is often called funny as well, though he said that he doesn’t try to be.
“I have fun doing my class, and it comes through,” he said.
Stovall said he is flattered by his 4.5 rating, but added that he’s aware the rating is neither statistically valid nor entirely complete. He even made a pact with another accounting professor back in 2004 to never look at the page again.
Many of the comments on his page refer to his teaching style that requires students to use their textbooks, and even teach themselves, but Stovall isn’t worried about this.
“I feel very good to know that I might encourage students to do things on (their) own,” he said. “I do not enjoy students who require hand holding.”
Comments also described Stovall as a nice, helpful professor who cares about his students and their success—qualities that likely relate to his high rating.
“If the students let me, I like to try to connect with them as a mentor,” Stovall said. “I do this by determining how they best can learn a concept, paying attention to their facial expressions—boredom, confusion—in class, and being available in and outside of the classroom. My standing joke is that I am the most responsive e-mailer that they will ever have at GVSU due to my total lack of social life.”
Anton is unaffected by his score, though he does check the page from time to time.
“I try not to look,” he said. “The first time I looked was many years ago when my father-in-law pointed the page out to me. He was happy to see a few misspellings in some of the critical student comments. But the fact that this information is public and available to anyone—even one’s relatives—was, and still is, a little embarrassing or odd at any rate.”
However, Anton agrees with the comments that say he is an engaging professor.
“I am fairly lively and direct in the classroom—some might say ‘intense,’” Anton said. “In the classroom, itself, at least for the most part, I never use PowerPoint, show no videos, and basically focus by discussing the day’s readings. I require that students come with readings studied well enough to be quizzed over them, at least potentially. If I know that they will have adequately prepared in this way, I am eager to speak as directly and clearly as I can to make the readings clear, relevant and useful. I try to help open the discussion between and among young scholars. But I don’t want to own their struggle to study, and so, I am uncomfortable being highly engaging with them unless I am sure they have sufficiently tried prior to class.”
Lange doesn’t put much merit in his ratemyprofessors rating and hasn’t checked the comments in several years.
“I used to, but I found there are so many absolutely false statements, and that hurt,” Lange said. “I believe some students try to ‘get back at the prof‘—as I have been promised when a student earns a bad grade.”
That aside, Lange is still one of the most highly rated professors at GVSU, probably because he connects with his students through laughter and a dedication to their education.
“My style is to blend humor and knowledge, while enjoying life,” he said. “I think back to my undergrad years and which classes I truly enjoyed attending. The class could be teaching incredibly difficult material, but if taught with humor, personal relevance and involving the students, it makes it enjoyable for the class and the instructor. Further, I realize that students are all different. I will spend countless hours with any student that wants to learn the material. Their success makes this job rewarding.”