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US, Canadian and UK students can rate their teachers on RateMyProfessors.com. It does not yet exist here in Scandinavia. Keep it that way, say professors, who judge it irrelevant and useless
»[He] is the worst professor Harvard Law has ever seen. his accent is so difficul [sic] to understand that I can’t understand a word he is saying. You are wasting your money if you pay Harvard to have him as your professor,« states one bitter and blunt comment on a professor at Harvard Law School in the US, who is ‘awarded’ 2.1 points out of a possible 5.0.
Conversely, a professor at Miami Dade College gets top marks – 5.0 points and plenty of praise and sweet (possibly fickle) comments like »a very easy A« about the professor’s grading habits, and »super easy« about the course itself.
At the University of Copenhagen, John Tøndering has been awarded the prize Harald of the Year for being the best professor in 2011. Our Danish-language site Universitetsavisen asked him whether he would want to be top rated, if a Danish equivalent existed:
»I don’t know. Would anyone even want to read what people write about me? I’m not even sure that I would want to myself. I don’t think that I would have anything against it, but I wouldn’t think that it was a good thing either,« he says from his Copenhagen office at the Department of Scandinavian Studies and Linguistics.
Tøndering is not sure that anyone can benefit from RateMyProfessors:
»I would rather that students came to me and told me if I ought to improve on something, though I am aware that it can be a difficult thing to do – I get much more out of dialogue-based feedback. It’s easier to take seriously than the ‘click-click-click’ of a website, which reminds me online shops: If something, for a random reason, isn’t delivered promptly, the site is given a bad rating, and that rating is random,« says John Tøndering.
Tøndering thinks that RateMyProfessors is based on the belief that the teacher is the only one who steers a lesson, but that this is not the case.
One year, you can have a committed and interested class, and the next a group of students that loathe the course. As a teacher, one can try to act accordingly. RateMyProfessors may rate the quality of teaching, but does nothing to contribute to it, Tøndering concludes.
Canadian Allan Megill is a Professor of History at the University of Virginia. He has been commented on thoroughly on RateMyProfessors.com
He believes that students are generally tired of having to rate everything, and that it is only students who see a course as brilliant or extremely poor, who bother using RateMyProfessors.
»I consider RateMyProfessors.com to be a thing of the past, in terms of electronic communication. Late 20th Century-ish, but definitely not early 21st Century,« he says to our Danish site Universitetsavisen. »In that sense it is neither good or bad – it is just a passive presence.«
To help improve teaching, his personal suggestion is an expanded form of collaboration between university departments and student organisations, allowing for a dialogue-based feedback system.
The departments should have the right to limit or add information to answers before making them public within a system, and should create incentives to ensure a large number of responses from students. Furthermore, he suggests that student organisations should have the opportunity to publicise the answers in an edited form to staff and students.
Such a system could support the obligatory feedback-system already in place at the University of Virginia, used by 96 percent of the students, says Allan Megill.
The University of Copenhagen already has an equivalent system, but it is not without problems, as illustrated by the case of a Polish lecturer, who in response to criticism of his English-language skills reacted with an in-depth four page analysis of how the system does not work in May 2010.
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