What Every Instructor Can Learn from Rating Sites

Teaching Trends

Article Summary

  • More than 4 million students use RMP each month to evaluate their teachers.|The ten top-rated professors from 2017-2018 collectively cover several different disciplines, with similarities in teaching style. |The top two tags on RMP’s highest-rated instructors were "respected" and "caring." |Regardless of subject matter, it seems that all students are likely to have a more positive learning experience in a respectful and caring environment.
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As an instructor, odds are that you’ve heard of RateMyProfessors (RMP). Whether you love it, hate it or you’re still unsure how you feel about it, the reality is that more than 4 million students use RMP each month to evaluate their instructors.

Take It with a Grain of Salt

While there might be some mixed feelings around sites like RMP, it’s important to recognize that online evaluations are subjective. Though a negative opinion can feel defeating, it isn’t necessarily a true assessment of one’s capabilities. The effectiveness of one’s teaching is more accurately proven from overall students’ behavior. For example, if only one student was unsuccessful, but the rest flourished, the credibility of the unsuccessful student drops. One professor shared this sentiment:

“One semester I taught this course with 17 students. One student posted in RMP basically saying that I did everything wrong. On the anonymous course evaluations, 16 students wrote good to very good remarks, and one student wrote “everything wrong.”

In general, online commentary is hard to prove credible. According to the CEO of Fakespot, a site that exposes phony reviews, up to 70 percent of Amazon’s reviews are fake: most are either companies leaving praise for themselves or criticism against competitors. This creates a massive void of reliability.

It’s both natural and reasonable to question the accuracy of RMP as it’s known for giving students the freedom to rate teachers however they see fit. If you’re questioning if your RMP profile could hurt your career, consider that nine out of the ten top-rated professors from 2018-2019 all had a class-level of difficulty rated at 2.6 or lower, out of a total of five, perhaps indicating that students are less likely to give more challenging classes a positive rating. One professor shared the following feedback from a student who was unhappy with the amount of work, and the requirement that it be correct:

“The amount of homework was unreal. I spent on average, five hours a week on this homework, which is also graded on correctness. Also, the homework is graded on accuracy not completion.”

While RMP’s ratings may not affect how you teach, their site has collected important data any instructor can benefit from. Read on to see how the top-rated professors on RMP scored.

Understanding the Top-Rated Instructors on RMP

When looking at the ten top-rated professors from 2017-2018, there are some similarities across this diverse group of instructors spanning several disciplines including:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Information Technology
  • Mathematics
  • Biology
  • Languages
  • Education
  • Computer Science

We summarized what worked for these professors and how you can apply these insights in your classroom.

On RMP, students use “tags” to attach descriptions to their teachers. All ten top-ranked professors from the 2017-2018 list were “tagged” with respected. Eight out of ten were tagged with caring and seven out of ten were tagged with amazing lectures. The top three tags were followed with inspirational and gives good feedback for five out of the ten professors. The remaining tags on four or fewer of these professors were:

  • Participation matters (four out of ten)
  • Accessible to class (three out of ten)
  • Extra credit (three out of ten)
  • Clear grading criteria (two out of ten)
  • Hilarious (two out of ten)
  • Skip class? You won’t pass (one out of ten)

As abstract as reviews can be, it’s interesting to note the top two tags on RMP’s highest-rated instructors—respected and caring—are both attributes tied to personality and demeanor. Take a look at some of the feedback these instructors earned:

  • “He was always willing to meet and answer questions. Very helpful and caring.
  • Inspirational professor who teaches you much more than the class material.”
  • “I loved this professor! Very kind and responsive. Always had a positive outlook on the class. He inspired me to work harder when I was close to quitting.”
  • “I love this professor, she’s very respectful, knowledgeable and funny, makes class so interesting, she gives detailed reviews for exams, provides study guides we go over in class.”
  • “I have taken him for class a few times and he never disappoints. He cares for students…. He is always available to help.”
  • He cares so much! You can always get in touch with him. He is super responsive to his emails. Just an awesome, caring, hilarious, person overall.”
  • “One of the nicest people you will ever meet. Comes to class every day and is enthusiastic and caring.”
  • “This course enlightened my life!”
  • She really cares…. She wants her students to do well and is passionate about teaching students.”
  • “NOTHING BUT RESPECT! He’s super passionate about what he does.”

Regardless of subject matter, it seems that all students are likely to have a more positive learning experience in a respectful and caring environment.

Take It or Leave It

Whether you buy into RMP or not, one thing is certain: Getting feedback is important for continuously improving your work as an instructor and providing students with what they need to succeed in your class. You can certainly opt to use RMP as a channel for feedback; alternatively, you can use your own in-class evaluations at the end of each semester.

No matter the outlet, the more feedback you get from students, the more you’ll understand what works and what doesn’t in your classroom.

Looking for ways to build your personal brand as an educator?