Teachers debate privacy of formal evaluations

By Britany Wright
August 28, 2008

Students now have the opportunity to evaluate their favorite, and least favorite professors online and on paper. An article from Inside Higher Ed reports a study by two professors at the University of Maine on the correlation of the results of ratemyprofessors.com and formal assessments to judge the reliability of the Web site.

The online site, allows students to feel more comfortable and able to make personal remarks about their teachers. Just like any other online fad, it has spread to more than just the students, professors have access to it as well. Some of the comments made by students have caused a universal argument between professors and higher education’s administrations whether or not they should post the official assessments of professors on the school’s Web site so that it can be publicly viewed.

Before the site was launched, at the end of each semester professors would pass out the official assessments to the students and remove themselves from the classroom while students took the survey. The assessment covers the course, the materials and the teacher so that the administration can decipher the success of the program. Most importantly for the professors, the sake of their careers.

“Teachers should have a level of confidentiality with the results and who they share it with,” Dr. Anthony Tomasco, psychology professor, said.

Some students realize that the surveys are critical to the success of the college and take them seriously. Others, however, fill all the dots out in the middle without reading the question. Students are not the only culprits though. Some professors who have reached tenure and no longer need the evaluation, no longer receive the criticism (positive or negative) that will help improve the program due to voluntary nature of the assessments.

According to Tomasco, anyone who aspires to be a teacher wants to do a good job. The assessments are written documentation of work done that they can present in a job interview. The evaluations also hold weight in the process of applying for tenure.

The main supporting argument professors (who want the formal results online) is that ratemyprofessors.com can boost reputations or ruin them because of one negative remark online.

The site has gained more popularity over the years as incoming first-years learn about the Web site from upperclassmen friends. After all, not just freshmen have to deal with the anxiety of meeting new professors each semester. Upperclassmen go through the same process of the first week of classes with a professor who has just been hired, or one that they have never had before.

However, professors and administrators who have reacted to the Web site believe the selection process should not be left up to which one is the most popular, the easiest grader or the “hottest.” Instead they should be selected based upon how well they will cater to learning styles.

“The language reflects a commercial approach to evaluation. The assessments should not be evaluating people at the level of social relationships,” Tomasco said.

Many of the videos that have been posted by professors in retaliation to comments left by students remark on the anonymity of the gradings. The fact is some of the students who use the site are just not familiar with the teaching style of that professor.

“When something happens (a negative remark) it’s a no win situation by striking back. It’s just defensive behavior on your part. The best way to deal with it is to [hope] that truth will prevail and people will recognize slander,” Tomasco said.

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Britany Wright

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