With more than 3,500 course offerings in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts alone, choosing three or four new classes can be a daunting task for students. To make the course selection process easier, the Michigan Student Assembly offers “Advice Online,” a service that gives prospective students access to ratings of professors and classes before registration. Unfortunately, the website was out of commission for the better part of last year, and, when it did go back online, the problems of outdated and ill-formatted records were still prevalent. Vast improvements have been made to the website this year, yet more must be done if it’s to become a useful tool for students.
The biggest advantage of Advice Online, one that unofficial competitors like www.ratemyprofessors.com do not share, is that its data is based on the official evaluation forms students fill out at the end of each semester. MSA should make the website more comprehensive by also posting the written comments provided by students. Already typed out to ensure students complete anonymity, these comments would require minimal effort to upload. Numbers can only suggest so much about a particular class. Written feedback would allow students to better understand the nature of a class.
The very existence of services like ratemyprofessors.com proves that Advice Online is not fulfilling its purpose. Some of the categories are too general and the figures for these categories tend to be very similar. The purpose of Advice Online is to allow students to make distinctions between courses and having broad categories in which all professors score almost the same is ineffective. MSA should consider making the categories more specific so students may differentiate between classes more easily.
The average grade of a class would be an important addition to Advice Online, as it would readily tell students what course evaluations cannot – exactly how hard the professor grades. And instead of leaving half the categories empty, MSA should take the time to ensure each field has adequate data.
Because it uses official evaluation data, Advice Online is less susceptible to the biases prevalent on ratemyprofessors.com. Only students who hold strong feelings about a professor or particular class bother to comment on ratemyprofessors.com, leaving other students with distorted, often exaggerated impressions. Because of its relative objectivity, Advice Online, if further improved and implemented effectively, could prove a great service to students.
MSA deserves praise for bringing this website so far from the chaotic state it was in last year, though it remains a work in progress. Much like MSA’s housing website, Advice Online cannot serve its purpose unless it is more comprehensive, more user-friendly and more effectively promoted to students.