As I mentioned in my ASU enrollment appointment post, being a sophomore everyone else gets dibs on the good classes before I do. I planned out a really nice schedule, and then watched for 17 days as all the good classes I wanted got filled up. I wasn’t able to get into Physics (at least not without a lot of difficulty trying to get an override and ending up with a horrible schedule because of it anyway). The lecture got filled up, and even if I did get in, the only lab spots left were 7:30am or 6:00pm. the first would require me getting out of bed and onto the bus before the sun comes up (unnatural I tell you!) and the latter would make for 12 hour Thursdays. It is a bit saddening though, because Physics would have been an easy class. The only requirement was Calculus I, and I took an introduction to physics class at the community college back during my homeschooling/dual enrolment days… The good news is that it isn’t a requirement for any of my future classes, just a science elective I need, so it won’t put me behind at all if I wait a semester or two to take it.
Instead of an easy class and a fun lab, my choices became Linear Algebra (hard looking), Differential Equations (harder looking), an upper division statistics/engineering class with a software lab (hard and time consuming), or a horribly boring and probably time consuming cultural humanity (religion, prehistory, woman’s studies). I was contemplating going with the humanity, since for some reason I’ve developed a fear of math classes, but I decided to go ahead and take Linear Algebra since it will help me a bit if I decide to minor in math; Plus, I’ve heard it’s helpful to take before you take differential equations (even though the degree program says to take them the other way around). Here’s what my schedule next semester ended up as,
CSE220: Programming for Computer Engineering (Burger)
CSE230: Computer Organization /Assembly Language Programing (Burger)
MAT243: Discrete Math Structures (Maris)
MAT267: Calculus for Engineers III (Rogers)
MAT343: Applied Linear Algebra (Enyang)
It’ll be an interesting but difficult semester. One thing I did differently this semester while registering is spend more time than usual asking people which professor they had for the class and browsing some pages like Ratemyprof and the professor’s previous year’s syllabi. Before, I didn’t really care much, thinking I could just learn the material on my own and do fine even if the professor was a horrible teacher. I’m starting to find that isn’t quite the case; the teacher can make the difference between the same class being interesting/enjoyable and getting a good grade, or a horribly boring/difficult class and getting a bad grade. I think that’s the one thing that I’ve learned from Biology this semester.. easy topics, sometimes interesting, but hate the class more than any I’ve taken so far (and I’m likely to get an “A”.. maybe, the prof won’t say, and the class average is somewhere between 50 and 60). Often I didn’t have much of a choice because of scheduling requirements, but I heard Burger was a really good prof, along with Rogers, so I managed to fit them into my schedule. For discrete math there were only two professors that teach it, and the reviews of them on Ratemyprof summed up in one word were “evil” for one and “scary” for the other. I just picked the one that fit into my schedule best. Ratemyprof with math courses isn’t very reliable anyway, there are always students who will say the class/teacher was horrible because they got a bad grade, but often those are just kids who don’t get math, and wouldn’t even with the best teacher.
So, take reviews and recommendations with a grain of salt, but it can’t hurt to try and find good professors, right? After all, you’re paying for your education just like you pay for a lot of other things, and when you go out to buy a new computer or car, you certainly do research to see what model is best before diving into such an expensive venture. The cost of a computer and the cost of a 3 credit hour class at a university are quickly becoming closer (computers are getting cheaper as education is getting more expensive). There is quite a debate in the college atmosphere about this topic; I’ve heard people say that the idea of Ratemyprof and the dozens of similar pages are stupid, with anonymous posters putting incorrect or misleading information, and that if a teacher was truly bad they would improve or not be teaching at the university anymore. I’ve also heard of professors getting on the pages and posing as students, rating themselves with 5 stars and a great story about how wonderful the class is. Among the professors, they think that being an easy grader is the only thing important on these pages. I won’t deny that all these are possibilities, which is why you mustn’t think every little story you hear is true. However, when you go onto Ratemyprof or some other page and look up a professor, find that they have 8 pages of student comments saying how they are disorganized, hard graders, or the most monotone person they’ve ever met, maybe there’s something to it!
I’ve heard a lot of complaints and comments about Ratemyprof, especially from professors themselves. On one teacher’s forum that I stumbled across while browsing (I’ve since lost the link, but will try and find it later), a college professor stated that he heard a student put off a class for semester because his (the professor) Ratemyprof page said that he was a horrible teacher. The professor’s response was to say that this was ridiculous, and the student was not the kind of student he would want in his class anyway, and that pages like this would weed out students he didn’t want. Perhaps putting of a class seems like an extreme thing to do, but according to several studies Ratemyprof and pages like them correlate directly with the university’s system of teacher evaluations. If the professor’s reaction was claiming that he doesn’t want students like that, does he really sound like a good teacher? My reaction to the professor mentioned above is similar to a comment on the above link,
“Poll a 1000 college students and 900 will tell you they do not think their school or professors care much about their views. This is not merely sad, frustrating and demoralizing, but counterproductive to the ultimate mission of our universities to inspire our individual minds and collective culture toward a higher ideal for the human condition. No sustainable system exists without valid feedback and while the occasional student verbal trashing is inevitable, the broader pattern of issues raised, particularly if students believe it to be taken seriously, should be a welcome insight for improvement in a largely insular academic setting.”
I won’t give myself dreadful schedules or avoid classes just because of Ratemyprof horror stories, but I will continue to skim through them when I register for a semester, avoiding professors with horrible ratings and leaning toward those with good ones when my schedule allows and multiple sections are available. It’s a source of information, and like with any source of information can be a useful and powerful tool when a discerning eye is applied to it. I’ll also continue to contribute to a few of these pages, especially when the ratings are against what my opinion is. If I look up one of my teachers that I really enjoyed learning from and find they have bad reviews (happened with my Calc I teacher), I’ll take a minute to throw a 5 star rating and a comment/story on the page, and encourage you to do the same. The more accurate and intelligent ratings that are posted, the better the site becomes.