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The Blue & Gray Press | October 24, 2017

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Professor evaluations requested, UMW students fail to reap benefit

Professor evaluations requested, UMW students fail to reap benefit

By CAROLINE TRABUCCO

The fall semester is drawing to a close and finals are upon us. As students prepare for exams, many may also find themselves being encouraged to give the end-of-term evaluations for their professors. These evaluations are regarded as “useful educational tools” and are used for the “betterment of the university.” If our feedback, as well as the feedback of our peers, matters so much, why don’t we have access to the results of professor evaluations?

In selecting courses for upcoming semesters, many UMW students look to their peers’ opinions on certain professors, as well as online forums such as RateMyProfessors. While both can provide some useful insight into the effectiveness of a professor’s teaching style or how hard his or her exams are, neither is entirely credible.

According to The New York Times, on the “commercial professor ranking site” Rate My Professors, student-reviewers identities are not only seldom verified, but they are not evenrequired to begin with. The Times suggests that because RateMyProfessors has its own vocabulary, values  and idiosyncrasies, it is best consulted “for novelty purposes only.” USA Today writes “the categories used by RateMyProfessor are vague and fail to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of things that are important,” adding that “there is also no way to know that the person writing the review has actually taken a class with that professor.”

RateMyProfessors has even added a functionality, which allows professors to respond to comments and refute bad reviews. Not to mention that RateMyProfessors is owned by MTV, which also tanks its credibility.

Many UMW students are prompted to evaluate their professors electronically. The movement from paper to virtual forum adds an extra layer of anonymity to the student responses, negating the need to “sugarcoat” true feelings and further validating this evaluation method. This, accompanied by the accessibility of electronic material, should make it easy to circulate reviews to interested students. So are we still denied access?

According to insidehighered.com, the University Senate at the University of Minnesota is considering a proposal to publicize student feedback, in the hopes that the data will aid in making informed course selections.

Robert McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education at Minnesota was quoted as saying, “We think this is an excellent step forward in providing students quality information.” He, and the Minnesota University Senate, have both criticized the credibility of RateMyProfessors as well.

As other universities attempt to make helpful and reliable resources available to their students, Mary Washington students should be asking themselves, why not us?

The documented experiences of fellow UMW students have the potential to help their peers choose classes, and professors, while building the schedules that are most suitable for them. The only resources available to us as a student body are unreliable and unaccredited.

As of right now, UMW asks for our feedback, but does not make this feedback available to us in return. We as students should absolutely have access to a better contemporary representation of opinions on UMW professors.

Comments

  1. Alumna

    I’m an alumna of UMW who is now teaching at a university. Here’s why student evaluations are not made public: they often have nothing to do with the quality of the class. Many professors, whose results can be tangibly measured in improved test scores over the course of the class, get terrible ratings because they were hard graders. It is a measurable fact (at least at my university) that professors who are softer graders get better evaluations. Publicizing these evaluations encourages students to sign up for classes with higher grade inflation, incentivizes professors to grade more softly in order to get students in their class, and thus increases grade inflation at the university as a whole, lowering the quality of education and the integrity of grade feedback. Not everything is best left to the free market.