For over a decade, the Ratemyprofessors.com (RMP) social networking, review website has been a mainstay for new and current college students wishing to share and receive guidance on the quality of education at numerous universities in America, the United Kingdom, and Canada.
Discounted by educators and school administrators as a “novelty”, the site continues to enjoy tremendous success with its target audience: college students.
According to the website, “Over 4 million college students” use its services “each month”. That equates to nearly a fifth of all undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in an accredited university here in the United States.
But despite its growing popularity, many educators, students, and administrators continue to question the site’s validity and influence on the quality of American higher education.
For those who have never visited the site, ratings are broken down into five categories: “Overall Quality”, “Helpfulness”, “Clarity”, “Easiness”, and “Hotness”. The scale for each is from 1 to 5 with 5 being the highest quality rating.
Perhaps the most controversial of the five ratings is “Easiness” because it indicates the ease with which a student can achieve a passing grade from a particular professor, with the least amount of effort.
But according to MTV Networks, the owner and publisher of RMP, only “Clarity” and “Helpfulness” are used to determine the “Overall Quality” rating of a professor, not “Easiness” or “Hotness”.
In this, the first of a two part, special series, we will consider the ratings of one professor from Cal State University Monterey (CSUMB), and discuss his feelings as to the site’s accuracy and usefulness as an indicator of education quality.
Professor Don Mautner has taught Meteorology and Oceanography for CSUMB’s Division of Science and Environmental Policy (SEP) since 2002 and enjoys not only one of the highest “Overall Quality (4.9)” ratings but also has one of the highest “Easiness (4.8)” ratings of any of CSUMB’s “rated” professors.
Of the nearly 200 students he teaches each year, he believes that the majority of his ratings are derived from an introductory course offered to non-Science majors, a class he admits is attended mostly by “freshman and sophomores”.
This would seem to confirm the belief that the majority of RMP’s contributors are students who have only recently begun their academic journey in higher education.
It also suggests that amongst this group of students “Easiness” is as important as “Overall Quality”, a concern that some experts feel undermines the legitimacy of the site’s ratings as a whole.
But, in a recent email from Mr. Carlo DiMarco, Senior Vice President of Strategic Partnerships and Development for MTV, he defends the site’s veracity, stating that as a 100 percent ‘student driven’ entity, the site represents a true accounting of what he refers to as, “the overall wisdom of the crowd.”
To Mautner, his high ratings are simply the result of effective teaching that, in his opinion, makes it easier for most of his students to achieve passing grades.
According to him the ratings are “consistent with what he has tried to do and accomplish” as an educator, and represent the effort he has put forth to make the information readily accessible to students of all academic interests and backgrounds.
A careful analysis of the comments made about Mautner on RMP seems to support his contention. In one review dated from 2008 a student wrote, “I didn’t know much about oceans before this class, and I had no idea they could be this interesting. I got an A and I learned the most of any class I have ever taken.”
And that’s not the only comment praising Mautner’s abilities as an educator. In fact, most of the comments left by students about Mautner report similar experiences.
Thus, the question of the validity of RMP’s ratings is not as cut and dry as some education experts believe.
Next issue, we will continue our discussion of RMP ratings and feature the comments of one professor of Education Philosophy regarding the potential impact of sites like Ratemyprofessor on the quality of education in America.