Rate your lecturer?

by Jeanette Sakel

You may have heard about it: there is now a website equivalent to the US site ‘rate my professor’ in the UK: http://rateyourlecturer.co.uk

Before I urge all students to go ahead and rate our abilities (only positive comments, of course – you know the score :-)), let’s have a look at what is behind this website.

In the US, it is a very well-known place for students to leave feedback about their ‘professors’ (the general term for lecturers and professors). When searching for scholars in the US, one of the first profiles you may come to is their ‘rate my professor’ score. This happened to me the other day when I was looking for a US scholar who had given very positive feedback about my latest book. I was really pleased when I saw that he was rated very highly by his students. Yes, I thought, my book is really student-friendly, and other good lecturers will recognise that.

Yet, when I started to look at some of the individual comments, I was quite surprised. These included ‘he is really handsome’ and ‘he has a cute son who he brings to class from time to time’. Sure – those are things that you might say to your friend when describing a lecturer, but are these really reasons for rating someone’s teaching highly? Well, let’s give those ‘raters’ the benefit of the doubt and say that what they probably meant was that the teaching is good AND he has these additional attributes!

Now, unsurprisingly the existence of the new website in the UK is causing some concern among academics (e.g. http://www.criticalfaculties.org/we-are-not-dancing-bears-opposing-rate-your-lecturer/). I can see the point. What about bullying, or having a student who is annoyed by not getting a good mark and taking it out on their lecturer openly? What if what is said is simply not true?

Again, I have some personal experience. Google books has, for some time, had the option of reviewing and rating books. I was quite shocked when I saw my Grammar of Mosetén, published 2004 had been reviewed there by an anonymous person and given a meagre 1 star (the lowest possible rating). When searching for my name on Google, there was the one-star rating on the first page! Woah! I instantly knew who had written it – and for which reasons. I have since dealt with this case – and I can’t really say any more about this without giving away the authors’ identity (but: should I really let them off this easily)? What I have learnt from this is: if people want to get at you, they can. There are always jealousies, revenge and nastiness out there. People often have vested interests. Still, they can voice these in a whole range of places. Rate my lecturer is just one more outlet. Call me naive, but I actually think this new service is quite a natural development:

– seller ratings on ebay, online reviews and the like are common. It was just a matter of time when user reviews would arrive at universities

– much of the information is already out in the open anyway, on student Facebook pages, comments on discussion fora and the like

– we already have the NSS (National Student Survey) measuring student satisfaction, and this has a lot to do with how students relate to their lecturers. This is also anonymous, yet it has massive impact

– by getting ‘qualitative’ comments, lecturers can act on some of this feedback (even though that may not always be possible – i.e. image a lecturer ‘not handsome’ – umpf!)

I guess we can’t really change this development – it was bound to happen (I’m surprised we’re only getting this now). What we can do is to make the most of it.

Comments definitely welcome – as well as ratings! While you’re at it: why not read my Grammar of Mosetén and write a review, awarding it the 5 stars on google.books it deserves? 🙂



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