Informed or Incompetent?

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Nov 112003
 
Authors: Taylour Nelson

In the three years senior mechanical engineering major Andrew

Panariso has attended CSU, he has enrolled in classes that reaffirm

the reasons he chose to be a mechanical engineering major. He has

also enrolled in classes that have made him question his

future.

“I’ve thought, ‘is this what I really want to do?'” Panariso

said. “Teachers have a lot to do with liking a class. If I had a

choice of teachers, I would only take the good ones.”

Students can find out opinions on which professors are the “good

ones” at ramratings.com, a Web site unaffiliated with CSU, created

to allow students to post their opinions about CSU professors.

“It’s an important tool that tries to give students a voice,”

said Kennan Blehm, a senior computer science major and creator of

ramratings.com.

A CSU student himself, Blehm also attempted to make professors

more aware of their teaching styles through the Web site.

“When a professor is not doing a good job, and is aware of it, I

think it has the potential to cultivate change,” Blehm said.

Most classes administer a student course survey at the end of

the semester. These surveys ask the student to comment on his/her

experiences with the professor and the course itself.

Although students can access the statistical information of the

course survey through the Associated Students of CSU’s Web site,

they are not able to access any written comments.

But now they can.

When Blehm started ramratings.com, his vision was to create a

useful tool for students to read about professors by reading their

peers’ opinions.

“I wanted to hear more about the good teachers than the bad

teachers,” Blehm said. “I wanted to know who would teach a good

class.”

Blehm modeled the Web site after polyratings.com, a similar site

used by students at California Polytechnic State University (Cal

Poly) in San Luis Obispo, Calif., to evaluate their professors.

Forrest Lanning co-founded polyratings.com in 1998 while living

in the residence hall as a freshman at Cal Poly.

“We were looking at Amazon.com and realized that people could

read evaluations on books before actually buying them,” Lanning

said. “We thought it was a good idea; students could evaluate a

professor’s teaching style and other people could read about it

before taking the class.”

Soon the site was overflowing with evaluations from students, so

many that Lanning and his friends were unable to regulate all the

postings.

“Most students did constructive criticism, but some people would

post personal information about the professor,” Lanning said.

“Professors started wondering if it was ethical.”

A Web site like ramratings.com could be useful to the CSU

faculty, said Alan Tucker, vice provost for faculty affairs at

CSU.

“If the written comments are edited, removing derogatory and

demeaning postings, the faculty would find it helpful to see a

random sample of students talking about their class,” he said.

He said that faculty members confident in their teaching might

be less affected by comments than those who have had difficulty

with students in the past.

Tucker added that the Web site is merely providing a forum for

students to communicate with more people.

“It’s an online version of conversations that already go on,” he

said.

But on ramratings.com, there are very few evaluations for each

professor, some with none at all.

Brent Reeves, vice president of the Faculty Council, reviewed

the Web site and questioned its statistical validity.

“In a class of 180 students, if you get 2 or 3 evaluations it’s

not indicative of everyone’s opinion,” Reeves said. “It has

potential of being good, but for it to have any statistical

validity, it’s got to have more samples.”

A mycologist professor in the biology department, Reeves said he

finds constructive criticism from his students useful.

“We all have room for improvement,” he said.

Daniel Wood, a senior engineering major, said he would be wary

of the negative comments made about professors on the site.

“You don’t know the person (making the comments), or what kind

of student they are, so I’d stick to the positive views and what

people liked about the teaching,” he said. “You can usually tell

the intelligent response from (the response of) someone who is just

pissed off.”

Reeves said the Web site has the potential of being abused,

adding that not all the comments should to be taken seriously.

“It’s one of those things that will be humorous, and some will

get bent out of shape about it,” Reeves said. “Students should hold

onto their hats, it’s going to be a ride.”

 

 

 

 

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