Don’t RateMyProfessor

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Victoria Smith | Daily Texan Staff

The University has released the Fall 2018 course list, so it’s time to make some choices: What classes are you taking? When are you taking them? And, perhaps most important, who is going to teach you?

If you rely on RateMyProfessor to find potential instructors, you aren’t alone — so do 48 million other college students each year. On RateMyProfessor, students review teachers by four basic metrics: overall quality, level of difficulty, willingness to take them again and hotness — designated by a chili pepper. The site lists over 3,079 UT professors, who garner a combined rating of 3.75.

But if you’re looking for prospective teachers on RateMyProfessor, you should think again. RateMyProfessor may have easily digestible data, but most of it’s also highly limited — with small sample sizes, lots of bias and unclear parameters.

RateMyProfessor often comes up with an average rating for a UT teacher from less than 10 reviews, which means a tiny sliver of students decide the ranking. Even the most rated UT professor, chemistry professor Paul McCord, has only 157 ratings, less than half of the number of students in his chemistry class last semester.

And of the few reviews you do get, they’re likely to be skewed toward the extremes
 — the students passionate enough to volunteer their opinion. Comments about UT professors are often at the end-posts on the spectrum of loathing to love — from the succinct and cutting “RUN AWAY” to the almost-too-glowing “I would literally lay down my life for Dan.”  

Further, the site’s metrics are ill-defined and tend to reward professors students describe as “easy.” RateMyProfessor does not enumerate the factors it uses to determine the “overall quality” of teachers, but high-quality ratings often correlate with low difficulty rating. Of UT’s top-rated professors on the site, most have difficulty ratings under 3. Students should be able to learn more about prospective teachers than whether they hand
A’s out like Tic Tacs.

So don’t visit RateMyProfessor this semester. Instead, go to UT’s database of course instructor surveys. The CIS database is little advertised, but it contains years of reliable data to inform your choice of professor. 

UT requires instructor surveys for every class so the CIS database contains more reviews for each professor than you will find on RateMyProfessor. The larger sample mitigates the influence of extreme opinion.

 But most importantly, CIS has much better metrics and more of them: They have 12 compared to RateMyProfessor’s four. On CIS, you can see how former students judged the course workload and the teacher’s expertise, approachability organization. On each of those metrics, you can also see how that teacher compares to the average professor in their school and in the University at large.  

CIS may not be perfect, but they’re the best data UT students have access to, and it’s quantitatively and qualitatively superior to the ratings on RateMyProfessor. Whatever your personal criteria are for choosing a professor, the best information is on CIS reviews — unless your main criterion for professor-choice is hotness.

For that you’ve got to go back to RateMyProfessor, search for some chilies, and find yourself an Econ professor who tops the Scoville scale. But if you are a logically thinking student who wants the best data to make better-informed class choices, there’s only really one place you should be going for data.

Doan is an English and Plan II junior from Fort Worth. She is a senior columnist.