Students have been given another voice, although professors may not like what's being said.
When the Universal Student Ratings of Instruction moved online last semester the response rate plummeted to less than 35 per cent. With such low usage, some students are looking elsewhere for information on which professors to choose.
The website ratemyprofessor.ca allows students to anonymously rate professors' performances, provide comments on instruction and even decide whether the prof is "hot or not." The site has proven a popular choice among students and a controversial subject with professors.
"[The Students' Union] has conflicting views of the site," said SU vice-president academic Paige Forsyth. "It's a sounding board, and like any open forum you can't take it at face value."
Forsyth credits the students who provide meaningful comments and believes the University of Calgary may benefit from examining the results.
"I thought it was good that students were taking the time to write things like, 'this prof is good if you're a visual learner,'" said Forsyth. "But it's dangerous when students start making personal comments about teachers."
The U of C Faculty Association echoed Forsyth's concerns.
"Anyone can sign on and make a comment, you don't even have to be a student in the class," explained TUCFA president Anton Colijn, who is rated 2.6 out of 5 on the website. Colijn questioned the validity of the comments being made by students.
"Comments can be nasty, hurtful and irrelevant," he said. "Some faculty members have seen their surveys and been devastated by them, especially when students make comments about the appearance of a professor."
Ratemyprofessor.ca has been around for six years and boasts millions of hits each year as students across the U.S. and Canada search for information about their instructors. The site is free, but includes extra reviews for paying members.
"Any teacher knows what their strengths and weaknesses are," said communications and culture professor Dr. Max Foran, who earned 4.6 out of 5 on the site. "You need to look for consistency in the comments. You get those who really like you and those who hate you and they make comments with a lot of emotional baggage."
"These comments don't really focus on the teaching process," said Foran.
The website claims their evaluations are more valuable to students and professors than university sanctioned ones because they are independent of the university.
"There's no 'Big Brother' effect [with the site]," argued Patrick Nagle, chief operating officer and co-owner of the site. "Students don't take the university rating system seriously. They don't see where their information is going or where it would make a difference."
Nagle insisted the ratings accurately reflect professors' performances.
"We get a lot of feedback from professors who love the site and use it as a gauge," he said.
Students seem to appreciate the site, citing the advantages it holds over the USRIs.
"It's more helpful than the information on the Infonet," said fourth-year accounting student Brendan Drew-Brook. "You only get numbers there. I think this site is a much better gauge."