November 14, 2014

Weigh the Opinions, Ditch the Trolls and Find the Facts

Dean Frosh recommends doing your research and using all reasonable tools available to make good decisions about your academic plans. For many students, the first stop in this research is (RMP). We don’t necessarily endorse the use of that tool, but since we know many students rely on it, we hope this post will give you some tips on how to be an educated user of that resource. 

We also want to tell you about another great tool, the Rutgers Student Instructional Rating Survey (SIRS). As you’ll find out in a few weeks, Rutgers students complete an online survey for each of their classes at the end of each semester. Think of it as an institution-specific version of RMP that focuses on topics of “teaching effectiveness” and instructional methods.  Instructors get your feedback (don’t worry, it’s anonymous AND available only after grades are submitted). Students can view the results. Comments are not included in the SIRS ratings, so Dean Frosh recommends that you use SIRS and other, ahem, online resources that provide more context for ratings.
Thanks to the Wired Science Blogs for Image
Any assessment (RMP or SIRS) is almost useless if you look only at the composite score. Like everything else about college, you need to actually read and think critically for this info to be useful to you. To that end, here are some thoughts on using RMP and SIRS effectively:
Know thyself. One of the best things culled from reviews may be information about the course format and assignments. Do you prefer classes with writing assessments, multiple choice, group projects, exams? Course reviews will key you in to whether attendance and discussion are mandatory and graded. Are you willing to fulfill the obligations of this course?

“In the end, it is worth it if you're interested in [subject redacted] and are a driven student. If not, this is not the class for you.”[1]

Consider the high school teachers that you still remember well. What factors helped you establish rapport? Do you prefer snarky or soft deliveries? While your professor’s personality should not be a major factor in your learning, we all know that interpersonal issues play a role in how we receive information and what we think about a class.

“keeps lectures interesting and fun with wacky comments that make you laff in yor seat. really makes u work though, i suppose not everyone can be easy.”

 Experts in a subject area are not always experts in teaching. Look for assessments of how the professor teaches hard concepts and how receptive he/she is to student questions and discussion.

“Attendence isn't really required but you don't want to miss his/guest speakers lectures because they will be on the exam. Literally you have to study movies, articles, the book, and the powerpoints.... EVERYTHING! Overall good teacher just study hard”

Read between the lines. Be careful of reviews about professors whose ratings are really polarized – loved by some, hated by others. Focus on the why of the love or hate. The psychosocial classroom environment can affect your learning and motivation. You don’t have to love all of your professors, but it is important to be prepared to spend an entire semester with this individual.

“You can send [the final paper] to him a million times to edit. he is so nice and answers all questions and he is fast with email.”

Overall, focus on helpfulness and clarity ratings and NOT easiness – remember that easy is in the eye of the beholder AND it’s not the reason you’re in college. And chili pepper rating? We’ll leave the importance of that factor up to you.

“It's almost distracting how gorgeous he is but his lectures are so enthralling that it balances out.”

[1] Quotes are actual excerpts. Spelling and grammar mistakes have been left intact for authenticity.