Sometimes I like to ask students whether they use RateMyProfessors in deciding what classes to take.  Most faculty I know think it’s just a completely unreliable resource…but all of them know their own ratings. and many of them, if they’re in a position to check out a professor they don’t know, do take a look at it.

I think most students do check it out, or at least discuss similar kinds of “ratings” with their friends, but I’ve also had students tell me something else that matches nicely with a subject I wanted to bring up for this unit (it’s covered in my “Three Stars and a Chili Pepper” essay which is one of the readings, too).

One student last year told me that she looks at the RateMyProfessors ratings, and puts them through a kind of filter–if they’re all caps and full of misspellings, she figures they’re not very reliable and probably just the work of a student who gave a bad review because he did badly in the course.

A big part of google-fu and learning to ask is not just finding information, it’s evaluating it.  It’s essential, if you’re going to use search as a powerful act, to know when to trust a wikipedia article, or an Amazon rating, or a TripAdvisor review…or a class evaluation on

We all have our filters, and the best google-fu masters use the best, most finely-tuned, filters.  It’s possible that this is (another) area where we need to do better with teaching college students (or younger).  It’s certainly not enough to say “oh, you can’t trust those at all.” And it’s probably not enough to say “just take the average rating and accept that.”

We need to think about, and teach about, the criteria we use and need to use when rating the raters.