A red chili pepper that indicates the “hotness” of a professor may be a deciding factor for some students currently registering for classes next semester.

The pepper represents a category on RateMyProfessors.com — a popular website many University students visit to preview the 3,178 University instructors profiled on the site. Some professors, however, prefer that students use the University’s course evaluations because they say the evaluations are a more accurate judgment of their teaching styles.

Rossie Hutchinson, a communication studies lecturer at the University who received an overall quality of 4.8 on the site, said she believes students are inclined to use RateMyProfessors.com as a resource because the University does not make official professor evaluations available to students soon enough.

“The moment I turn grades in, I can see my evaluations,” Hutchinson said. “But the evaluations available for students online are from two years ago.”

Hutchinson pointed out that many students don’t know they can access course evaluations online. The Michigan Student Assembly also offers an online tool called Advice Online, but Hutchinson said it’s not useful because it’s not updated.

“Some students might not even be aware that they can access past course evaluations online.” Hutchinson said. “The problem is (University’s tool is) two years behind.”

Engineering junior Kyle Summers, MSA chief of staff, says MSA is aware of the site’s obsolescence and is working to make it more timely and user-friendly.

“It’s a very manual and somewhat technical process to update,” Summers said. “Ideally, whether or not we have something new, (the site) will be updated by the end of the semester.”

Summers added that MSA wants to ensure that the information is distributed with students in mind.

“We’ll be having more meetings throughout the semester to discuss more possibilities,” Summers said. “We are really interested in keeping (the site) very student focused and student feedback oriented.”

In addition to the University’s and MSA’s websites that display course evaluations, www.maizeandbluereview.com, a Michigan Daily-sponsored website offers students course evaluation results and grade distributions for classes.

Mika LaVaque-Manty, an Arthur F. Thurnau professor of political science and philosophy who also received an overall quality of 4.8, said he thinks University-distributed evaluations are a better indicator of instructor and class characteristics than RateMyProfessors.com.

“The official teaching evaluations we use here, they are not perfect,” LaVaque-Manty said. “They are in fact very far from perfect, but I take those more seriously because they are a better representation of the students.”

LaVaque-Manty, who sometimes reads the comments on RateMyProfessors.com for feedback, said the numerical ratings are not reliable. However, LaVaque-Manty acknowledged that students have no one to turn to but each other for advice on classes during registration.

“The University is actually working on providing teaching evaluation data to students more effectively,” LaVaque-Manty said. “Obviously, it satisfies an important need. We just need to provide the information better.”

Several years ago, LaVaque-Manty was approached by mtvU — the company that owns RateMyProfessors.com — to be part of a “Professors Strike Back” video —a segment featuring videos in which professors respond to student comments. LaVaque-Manty told mtvU that the website isn’t particularly helpful because most of the reviews are based on how much students like the professors, rather than the professors’ teaching quality.

“Its obvious problem is selection bias,” he said in an interview with The Michigan Daily. “It’s either people who totally love you or totally hate you — usually, the ones who totally hate you.”

On the site, instructors are rated on helpfulness, clarity, easiness and overall quality. University of Michigan instructors received a professional average of 3.28. Hutchinson said she thinks the rating categories on the website are not useful because they are too vague and generalized to offer accurate insight about courses and professors at the University.

“What does ‘easiness’ even mean?” Hutchinson said. “If I give my students the tools and materials to succeed in my class, does that make me an ‘easy’ teacher?”

Still, many University students find the website to be a useful resource. LSA sophomores Ashley Nestorovska and Mandy Bromilow said they use the site as a reference during registration to read about prospective instructors. Nestorovska added that though the subject of a class is important, students’ opinions of a professor could also serve as a determining factor when selecting a class.

“Mostly, (I use it) to see if any classes are worth taking,” Nestorovska said.

Engineering senior Jared Slaybaugh said the rating system on RateMyProfessors.com is more of a reference tool than an indicator of whether the class is worthwhile. Though he said he often checks the site during registration, the ratings only occasionally affect his decision to enroll in a course.

“I definitely take other things into consideration other than just the professor,” Slaybaugh said. “It depends on what I’m looking to take the class for, too. If it’s a class for my major, I definitely try to consider the interest level, how (the professors) are with students, stuff like that, because I’ll put more effort into it and care about it more.”

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