Worth the Rate?

HOW TRUSTWORTHY IS RATE MY PROFESSOR

Choosing the right classes can be difficult, while choosing the right teachers can be even more challenging but just as vital.

With the new quarter dawning on us and classes filling up, it’s time to stop putting it off and sign up for winter classes.

For many, a good educator can be the difference between an enjoyable 10 weeks or a miserable quarter. So when it comes time to choose, we often turn to the people we know for advice.

But what do we do when that fails? What do we do when those in our circle don’t have any clue about the professor in question?

This is supposedly where the website Rate My Professor (RMP) comes in: It is a site where you can rate your instructor’s difficulty, overall quality and, until recently, “hotness” — before they had that last feature removed.

Think of it as a sort of Yelp for academia — but its system seems to have glaring flaws which leave some faculty with potentially inaccurate reviews. What are the errors and can RMP do anything to fix them?

In 2007, the University of Maine published a report criticizing RMP’s accuracy when compared with the preciseness of the formal in-class evaluations. The report concluded that while the site was unreliable at giving specific details, its overall quality seemed to match the accuracy of in-class evaluations. This means that while the site couldn’t give you specific information, it seemed to be able to give you the general picture.

However, the report did mention that not all of the people who used the site were being honest about their intentions. The system was abused by pupils and experts alike.

To that degree, the problem isn’t with the system but with how people can use the system.

RMP promises total anonymity, which is important when rating someone who can have such an impact on the user’s academic life. However, the problem arises not with the anonymity but the ease with which one can get that anonymity and abuse it.

Sites like Yelp and and Trip Advisor record your IP address, the string of numbers that identifies your computer on the internet, and also require you to create an account. By recording your IP address, the site is able to track and limit the number of reviews per computer. If a computer looks like it is leaving more than its share of Yelp or Trip Advisor reviews, the issue will supposedly get checked on.

RMP is far more loose about this issue: instead of requiring an account, it simply logs your IP address in order to prevent potentially vengeful students or manipulative instructors from repeat ratings. However, the issue of the IP addresses is easily circumvented by simply going to a new Wi-Fi hotspots which today can be found in almost every coffee shop.

Would requiring critics to create an account before dropping a review stop people from leaving multiple reviews? No, probably not, but it’s important to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect security measure.

A particularly vindictive reviewer could leave multiple reviews on Trip Advisor, but in order to do that they would have to create a new email address, create a new account and then change Wi-Fi hotspots in order to leave the actual review.

For RMP, all you have to do is change Wi-Fi hotspots. This extra hurdle of creating an account isn’t enough to stop all review bombers, but it would weed out the less determined ones.

With the new quarter dawning on us and classes filling up, it’s time to stop putting it off and sign up for winter classes.

The choice of which instructor to sign up for is not an easy one to make. In a day and age where it seems the answers to everything can be found online, sometimes it is best to look for guidance in the real world.

You could try asking around campus for advice: academic advisors and other professors can be great resources.

More specifically, as a current student you could try to check a professor’s class time for this quarter and visit them during class. Stop by a little early to catch them before class starts and ask them about sitting in. They might suggest a better day to sit in, but they’re generally nice and open to the interest of prospective students.

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