Friday, April 06, 2012

Sorry Professor!

From time to time, I peruse online reviews of various things: books, hotels, restaurants, etc., and am sometimes reminded of teaching evaluations, but not necessarily in a good way. For example, I recently read two highly negative reviews of two different books, and found that the negative reviews were motivated by technical problems with the e-version of the books, not the writing/plot etc. Is that fair to the authors? No. It reminded me of some negative teaching evaluations I have seen in which a professor was severely criticized for things the students hated about the physical classroom space.

I don't know why I even read reviews of hotels anymore. I guess I am looking for systematic information that will indicate whether a place has a major problem or is a good place to stay. Typically, though, reviews are mixed, indicating more about the review-writers than the hotel. Particularly when reading reviews of small, charming hotels outside the US, I must admit that I am not shocked to the core to learn that there was a crack in a tile in the bathroom, a strange stain on the carpet by the window, or even a front-desk clerk who was not super-friendly.

Sometimes I wonder if the ease with which we can all review almost everything* in our lives affects how some people approach teaching evaluations, either the writing or the reading of them.

* Did you know that you can review rivers and other natural features? For example, the River Seine in Paris currently has 611 reviews on TripAdvisor, has an overall rating of 4.5 stars, and reviews ranging from Average to Excellent. Hooray for the River Seine for not getting any ratings of Poor or Terrible! The River Danube, perhaps owing to its length and the fact that it flows through so many major cities and you can review it in each one, has more variable ratings.

Here is an example of a review of a small hotel in an international city (review modified slightly from original version but retaining its essence):

We are college students from [country that is not the US] and used to traveling but even for the low price and good location we won't be back to this hotel. The staff don't really speak English even though this is a "hotel". The breakfast wasn’t anything special but we didn't really mind because it was cheap and we are young! However the elevator is really small and has no door and that is very unsafe! Again we thought it's not that bad and we are young. The rooms are really small but again I thought it's cheap and we’re young and don’t care but it got worse because the room was NOT made up every day. By day 3 we had no clean towels! It got even worse because of the language barrier but we are young and cheap and don't mind most things, but the staff stared at us when we walked through the lobby and this even creeped me out and I’m a guy. This place is just not worth it, even for less than 30 euros a night for 2 people.
Is it just me, or do you get the impression that the person who wrote this is young? Despite my advanced age, I personally could probably go 4 or 5 days without clean towels. When I first read the review, I wondered if this young man has similar expectations of his classes and professors, and if he writes similar reviews of his professors, if there are student evaluations of teaching at his university.

Maybe he would write something like this:
I am a student in Professor X's class but even considering the convenient day and time of the class I can't recommend this class. Professor X uses words I don't understand, even though she is supposed to be a "teacher". The lectures weren't anything special but I didn't really mind because this is a required class I have to take. However the chairs in the classroom are really uncomfortable and this is unsafe! Also the classroom is really small but that's OK too except that it is not cleaned every day and sometimes I see writing on the white board from other classes and once I saw a candy bar wrapper on the floor. It gets even worse because sometimes Professor X makes eye contact with me during class, when asking a question, and this creeps me out. This class is not worth it, even if it only meets for an hour on Tuesdays at 11 AM.
I think this could be a very fun game (or creative writing exercise) for academics: converting real teaching evaluations into hotel/restaurant reviews, and converting real hotel/restaurant reviews into teaching evaluations.

The game will need a zippy name; something even better than ratemyprofessorsandhotels. Like the various versions of the game Monopoly that involve sports, animals, movies, and New Jersey, we could perhaps propose an academic version of the game Sorry!: Sorry Professor! (other suggestions welcome, although note that all suggestions will be subject to review by everyone).


David S said...

A technical problem with the e-version might not be the fault of the authors, but if you're planning to buy the book in electronic format then it's very important indeed. These reviews are written to help other customers decide whether to purchase the book, not just to evaluate the content of the book in a kind of "peer review" way.

If, for example, a seller takes 6 weeks to send the book, then I would give it a low review. It's not the author's fault, but other customers should know about it.

Small college science prof said...

Agree about hotel reviews. I recently read a review of an upscale hotel in downtown San Francisco, in which the writer complained that the hotel actually had the audacity to charge for parking. Uh, don't get out much?

I don't know what the course evaluation equivalent would be... maybe complaining that the college charges extra for textbooks when you are already paying them plenty in tuition to take the course...

professormamallama said...

I'm giving this class 3 out of 5 stars because there was no breakfast available last week due to a power outage in my dorm. I was very hungry and could not pay attention in class, and when the prof called on me I was mortified because I couldn't string together more than two words due to my lack of breakfast. Three meals a day are included in my meal plan, which is included in the price of tuition I pay, and although there were other places to eat during the power outage, I could not wake up early enough to get there before class. Otherwise the class was the best I've ever taken, but unfortunately I have to give it 3 stars because of the breakfast issue.

Anonymous said...

I cannot recommend this class because the classroom building is really far from my bus stop. I learned a lot and the professor seems to care a lot about us students, but when the weather was bad or if I was running late for reasons that were not my fault, the walk from the bus stop was really unpleasant and as a result I can't say that I thought the class was overall very good.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I can only give this professor 2 out of 10 points because the restroom that is closest to the classroom is frequently out of paper towels and has very offensive graffiti on the walls.

Alex said...

Yeah, well, I gave 1 out of 10 stars because the nearest restroom has inoffensive graffiti, depriving me of a chuckle.

Anonymous said...

I got a deal taking this class during the summer session during August. I've taken 17 intro classes for my economics major and this was by far the worst. During the first few lectures, the class had potential. A blackboard, nice chairs and fair a/c.

The problem is that the lectures were not taught properly and my class had exams. Lots of them!! I spent the night trying to study for them. I hardly slept and the next morning I went to the registrar straight away to switch to another class. I did eventually manage to get a refund, but it ruined an entire day of my summer.

Exams are part of all courses to some degree but it would appear that this professor is not prepared to deal with the marking. Had it not been for the exams and the attitude of the professor this class has a lot of potential, particularly the location.

While you may get a professor that doesn't give as many exams as noted in some of the reviews, you are equally likely to get a professor like the one I did. I would give it a miss.

Anonymous said...

This post was hilarious. I would read everything on

Anonymous said...

This course was highly recommended, and I have read all the positive reviews from others who took this class, but I am sorry to say that I had a bad experience with a wad of gum that someone stuck under the desk where I like to sit. Otherwise the class seems OK, but I am only able to give it 2.5 stars.

Anonymous said...

This was very timely and also very funny. I am just leaving on a trip to Puerto Rico to give a seminar, with 1.5 days on the front end to see San Juan. I picked the hotels after reviewing the wildly variable reviews of the same hotels, largely differing because of the differing expectations. Somehow many folks think if you pay $65 for a room instead of $200, you should still have the same sanitized experience. I must admit I had not thought of translating this into Student reviews but it was brilliant. Thanks!

Mark P

Anonymous said...

I am young and can handle this sort of thing, but I don't think it's appropriate or conducive to creating a positive learning environment when the professor labels certain things as wrong or not right, especially in front of others. Again I can handle it because I'm young and have already gotten into med school, but it doesn't feel like a good way for students to learn and was not what I was expecting in a class discussion.

(I got something like this as a TA. I probably do need to find gentler ways of promoting logic and fact.)

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but this hotel was only fair. I mean, the staff members went too fast: they knocked on the door for housekeeping at the unheard of hour of 11:25 am even though it's common knowledge that the proper etiquette is to allow a guest to sleep - everybody knows it's vacation! And, to make matters worse, the continental breakfast was only offered from the narrow time window of 6-10am, forcing all guests to either conform to these draconian ways or go starving. Take my advice and find a hotel that goes at a reasonable pace and places reasonable expectations on sleep schedules.

Anonymous said...

"Worst class ever". I took this class in the fall semester, and will never take it again, it was so disappointing. I was frequently awakened from my naps in class by the sound of slamming doors in the hall. The wifi signal was not very strong in the classroom, and sometimes my online chats with friends were interrupted. The staff were mostly friendly, but they weren't as helpful as they could have been.

Anonymous said...

@Mark P,

If it is still there, I recommend the Gallery Inn in San Juan, which my family stayed at in 2005.

Let me, however, try translating some of the Google reviews for the Vagabond Inn near USC, which I've stayed at 5 times:

"the worst professor i have ever had, he is so rude...that i had to go to court against him"

"i didnt like the class at all..they do not care about there student....please ....please do not take this course..... "

"The professor smelled weird and looked disgusting! I can't stay in the class for an hour! Horrible!!!"

(Incidentally, none of those descriptions match my experience at the hotel.)

Anonymous said...

I'm giving Professor X 1 out of 5 stars (I'd give her zero stars if I could, but Amazon won't let me give anything less than 1 star). Professor X's homework and grading policies are far too strict and irrational.

First of all, the professor often glossed over material "that we were expected to know" just because it was covered the in the prerequisite course (if the material was something I should have learned, then I would have remembered it...I took the prerequisite course twice, including, most recently, last semester, getting a B- the last time I took it).

Also, Professor X sometimes made up her own homework problems instead of using problems straight from the text book. Of course, this means I wasn't able to do the homework since the answers to her made up problems weren't available on Cramster and Yahoo Answers. And since homework was 25% of the grade in the class, I had no chance of getting an A in the class. Very unfair grading policy.

Another example of her unfair grading policy is the so-called "curve" that she uses. On the final exam--which I studied all night for!--I got just a few points below the class average (which was about the same score I got on the midterm), which should have given me a final grade of an A- when you average in my homework score, but she gave me a C+ instead! Where's the logic in that?

Professor X also has a habit of collecting homework on Fridays, which means you actually have to attend class on Fridays. Even if you turn it in first thing Monday morning to her mailbox or tape it to her office door, she still takes of points for it being "late."

In addition, I sometimes got the correct answer on a test problem, but she said I was wrong and gave me no credit. I specifically remember one problem where I was asked to solve for a velocity. I got 4,500,000 meters per second for my answer, and she said I was wrong! But it couldn't have been wrong. I copied the number exactly as it was displayed on my calculator!

Avoid Professor X at all cost!

jb said...

I cannot recommend this class. This class starts at 8am. We are young, we need 10 hours of sleep. The professor does not seem to understand this. She will wake you up by standing beside you and talk very loudly into the mike. The professor is not entertaining. No songs. No dance routines. We are young, we need entertainment. Professor gets angry when you use your cell phone. She even takes them away. I am still looking for the one she left out in the hallway. We are young, we need our cell phone.

Georgiana said...

(Adapted from one of the reviews of a hotel where I'll be staying next month.)

Don't be fooled by the glitzy course name, for when you enter the course room, you will be greeted by a place straight out of the 70s. The bathroom down the hallway was totally antequated [sic] too, and produced nasty odors. The professor taught her course on a blackboard, maybe because she was of the same vintage as the bathroom. To make matters worse, it was observed that the same rubbish was taught to new students each year. How this person is a professor remains a mystery. If you plan to major in physics, steer clear of her courses.