There’s no doubt that the internet has been a boon to students around the world. With research materials posted or scanned online, students researching papers no longer have to spend hours at the library simply searching for relevant information. Sharing assignments online saves paper and printer ink money. There are numerous other benefits to the internet—but there can also be a few drawbacks.
No, we’re not just talking about the addiction of Netflix, or the distraction of Twitter (though teachers are starting to implement the social media site into their classes). Misinformation or biased information can be an Achilles’ heel.
So what about professor-rating websites? Where do they fall on the helpful vs. hurtful divide of the internet? No doubt that having a bad professor can make a class miserable and even hurt your grade. It makes sense that students would want to screen their teachers, then, rather than going in blind and risking getting a bad instructor.
But are rating-websites the answer? Maybe, maybe not.
The people who post reviews on these types of websites fall into two categories: They LOVE that teacher or they HATE them. There is rarely an average—or objective—middle ground. A peek at the extreme ends of either spectrum is not entirely helpful for you when deciding whether or not you want to take a class with that teacher.
One of the reasons there’s such a split is that every single student will have a different relationship with or perspective on that teacher. Some might see a professor as one who assigns way too much homework, grades too harshly, and is a relentless taskmaster. Others might see that same teacher as one who challenges and encourages their students to be the best they can possibly be.
If you have an older or younger sibling that happened to have shared a teacher, you’re likely familiar with this problem. My senior year of high school I had a teacher that I absolutely adored—he was hilarious, passionate, sarcastic, and challenging. My brother, several years later, got the same teacher and hated him—my brother thought he was stiff, overbearing, unrelatable, and rude. We didn’t have a similar outlook on this teacher and thus had vastly different experiences. And that’s the key—different students will have different opinions.
So if you’re going to be using a professor-rating website, we have a few things to keep in mind before you make a decision.
Take Everything with a Grain of Salt
If you want to take a sneak peek at a potential professor, just keep in mind that a review will be subjective, and personalized to the reviewer. If you happen to take that class, you might find yourself thinking “Huh, that post was way off!” and enjoying the teacher. Or vice versa. Maybe you read a glowing review and then found yourself totally incompatible.
And who knows, maybe someone wrote a scathing review about how “this professor is a total jerk” right after that student got a bad grade on a test they hardly studied for. Keep this in mind and make sure you formulate your own opinion when it comes to it.
Don’t Just Read One Review (Or Look at One Website!)
Scientists will tell you that sample size is important. If you zero in on just one particular review (or one review site) then you might be getting slanted feedback. Look at a number of reviews—if they are positive or negative across the board, or different reviewers post about similar teaching tactics or pitfalls, then there might be a bit more credit to them.
Difficulty is Inevitable
If you think you can use a professor-rating website to avoid the hardest graders or courses, you’re out of luck. Eventually you’re going to take harder classes. Even great professors can give out tough tests or have high expectations for grading. College is a time to challenge yourself, so don’t try to weasel out of those chances! Embrace them.
All in All
If you’re going to visit a professor-rating website, use common sense and know that reviews can be entirely subjective. You may not see things the same way a different student does. While these sites can be used as a sort of loose guideline, maybe don’t use them as the final decision on whether or not you take a particular class.
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