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Hot or not? Web sites allow rating of profs

Megan O'Neil | Monday, October 31, 2005

Looking for cheap textbooks? Go online.

Working to plan your spring break getaway? Go online.

Want to praise, criticize or deem one of your professors “hot?” Go online.

Once dependent on word of mouth, students can now turn to Web sites such as NDToday.com and ratemyprofessor.com to review or research instructors.

The sites provide an anonymous forum in which students go well beyond the typical responses of teacher evaluations and expound on everything from lecture style to friendliness.

Evaluations for the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s professors currently listed on the Web sites range from highly flattering – “This dude is great!” – to goofy – “has a sweet beard” – to downright hostile – “All learning must be done on your own. He uses tests as experiments.”

Founded by four undergraduates in 1999 and now operated by College Club Interactive (CCI) Studios, NDToday.com launched its teacher evaluations in spring 2000. It quickly became one of the most popular features of the site and has over 10,000 instructor and course evaluations.

Instructors are crosslisted by college, department and overall ranking score. Students rate professors on a scale of 1 to 10 in several categories including toughness, teaching quality, accessibility and sense of humor.

CCI president Scott Palko said the reviews posted on his site are focused on teaching ability and are a reliable resource for students.

“The reviews themselves are of a pretty high quality,” Palko said. “We have no desire to post things about personal idiosyncrasies of a professor.”

Comments posted on NDToday.com are screened for obscenities and slander, Palko said. Complaints from professors have been far and few between, he said. In fact, the site’s operators have been contacted by departments checking to make sure that professors were indeed listed.

Junior accounting major Kevin Johnson said he has consulted the Web site for professors for elective courses. With a few exceptions, he said, the evaluations posted on NDToday.com have generally been consistent with what he experienced in the classroom. The more reviews posted, the more accurate the rating, he said.

“I just look at general reviews of the teachers,” Johnson said. “The most important things I look for is the way the class is structured like tests and papers.”

Junior film major Mike Burke also said he has utilized NDToday.com’s teacher evaluations when enrolling in general education classes.

“Usually I am looking for good teachers not necessarily the easy ones,” Burke said.

Ratemyprofessor.com, founded in 1999 by software engineer John Swapceinski, has a similar format to the teacher evaluations found on NDToday.com. It boasts a listing of 5,277 universities and colleges nation wide with a total of 646,000 professors reviewed.

The site permits students to rate professors on a scale of one to five in three categories – helpfulness, clarity and easiness. They can also post specific comments on workload as well as critique physical appearance using a chili pepper icon – hot or not.

The scores for helpfulness and clarity are averaged together to reach an overall quality rating.

Anthropology professor James McKenna said he was surprised and flattered to learn he topped the list of Notre Dame professors listed on the site – he earned a score of 5. Although he had never heard of raetmyprofessor.com, McKenna said he has always placed a strong emphasis on his relationship with students and reads student evaluations carefully.

Despite the flattering reviews, McKenna said he would never be tempted to look up what students say about him on the site.

“I would never even think about it,” he said emphatically. “I just couldn’t do it. It would be like intruding. Perhaps it is not for my use. It is for the students’ use.”

Not all professors are equally as shy about seeing how they rank in the eyes of their students, however.

Saint Mary’s history professor David Stefancic, who was jokingly described by a colleague as the “department monitor” for the Web site, said he likes to keep abreast of what students are saying about him. A good review is flattering, he said, while a bad review probably came from someone he “ticked off along the way.”

Students might feel more at ease to speak truthfully about teachers on the Web site, Stefancic said.

“They may [be more honest] because this is totally anonymous,” Stefancic said. “Handwriting is distinctive for each student and some might feel intimidated [on traditional evaluations].”

Junior Jenica Forquer said she would give a more open evaluation on ratemyprofessor.com than on a traditional evaluation for that very reason.

“I don’t know what happens to those course evaluations,” Forquer said. “And it is supposed to be anonymous, but your handwriting gives you away.”

Saint Mary’s history professor Bill Svelmoe laughed when he was told he received a 5 out 5 ratings and a chili pepper icon on ratemyprofessor.com.

“Do students have the right to do this and is it a great Web site?” Svelmoe said. “Absolutely.”

However, some professors’ overall scores are based on just one or two student reviews, Svelmoe said, and therefore are not statistically accurate and cannot be taken seriously.

“At the moment I think it is more fun and a good place to start conversations,” Svelmoe said. “You might go on the Web site and look up a professor and then go ask friends [about him].”

Freshman Rachel Peck looked up her professors before arriving at Saint Mary’s in August and said it helped her to anticipate what would be expected of her in the classroom.

“It was positive so I got excited,” Peck said. “I wasn’t too worried and I thought it was funny that you could read the hotness.”