UBC Home Page -
UBC Home Page -
UBC Home Page UBC Home Page -
News Events Directories Search UBC myUBC Login
- -
UBC Public Affairs
UBC Reports
UBC Reports Extras
Goal / Circulation / Deadlines
Letters to the Editor & Opinion Pieces / Feedback
UBC Reports Archives
Media Releases
Services for Media
Services for the Community
Services for UBC Faculty & Staff
Find UBC Experts
Search Site

UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 12 | Dec. 4, 2003

Grading the Professors

New database makes it official

By Michelle Cook

For decades, university students had a simple way to rate their professors -- word of mouth. These days, they’re more
likely to visit a Web site called ratemyprofessors.com where students can anonymously post comments on the teaching abilities of their instructors. They can even use chili peppers to identify who’s “hot” on campus.

And if you think UBC students aren’t using it -- think again. The U.S.-based site contains reviews of nearly 250,000 post-secondary teachers across North America -- including 1,810 instructors from UBC.

If Laura Best has her way, UBC students won’t need to rely on chili pepper rankings to get information about their professors.

Earlier this year, Best, the VP Academic for the AMS, began working with university officials to create the Teaching Excellence Initiative (TEI), an online database containing comprehensive evaluation data on UBC instructors.

“Students are frustrated so they’re creating their own evaluation systems,” Best says. “They want this information, and it should be presented in a professional manner, not with chili pepper rankings beside professors’ names.

“UBC has wonderful faculty, brilliant researchers and engaging teachers. They’re diverse and accomplished and [with TEI], I want to showcase that to incoming and current students so that when they have to make choices about courses, or about coming here to UBC, they can make educated decisions.”

Currently, UBC has no centralized database of information on its faculty members and instructors, and access to evaluation data is inconsistent among the university’s 12 faculties. In the past, another AMS initiative called the Yardstick attempted to provide online teaching evaluations, but the project failed due to lack of faculty participation, limited scope of information, and concerns that the system was being used to compare and judge faculty members.

The TEI database would be a maintained by the university and searchable by instructor or course. It would contain information on an instructor’s various areas of expertise -- teaching, research and published works -- as well as strengths and interests. Best would also like the database to eventually include each professor’s teaching philosophy.

Best hopes the TEI’s scope will help it to succeed where the Yardstick did not.

“I think that it’s comprehensive and that has been a real selling point with people who aren’t comfortable with the idea of a professor with a number rating beside their name,” she says.

As a third-year arts student, Best says she finds it frustrating to fill out evaluation forms for her courses at the end of each term and never see the end result of the evaluation process. Judging from feedback received by the AMS, other students feel the same way.

“Students e-mail me asking about teaching evaluations for certain departments and during the AMS elections, students were asking what we would do about evaluations,” Best says.

“Now, if you want an evaluation on a teacher, you have go to the department in person and request it. If you want to know what a professor’s research interests are, you have to go to the department homepage. Then, if you want to find a course that the professor teaches, you have to go to the student services centre. The information is out there, but at different levels of accessibility and most students don’t know to ask for evaluations and most departments don’t publicize them,” Best says.

In comparison, the University of Western Ontario has a comprehensive online database of undergraduate course and instructor evaluations that is maintained by the university. The University of Toronto works with the Arts and Science Student Union to publish the “anti-calendar” a comprehensive online listing of professor evaluations that is publicly accessible and supported by the dean of Arts and Science. Based on the recommendations of a task force created to look at teaching evaluations, the University of Calgary has created a Universal Student Rating of Instruction (USRI) website that includes a ratings database accessible to students and faculty. McGill is beginning to make its teaching evaluations available through an Internet database.

Although the TEI is still in its early stages, Best has been encouraged by the support it has received from the university administration, senate, the AMS and The Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth (TAG).

“Our belief is that students should have as much good information as possible to choices about what courses they want to take and that information needs to be in-depth and multidimensional,” says TAG director Gary Poole.

The Faculty of Arts was already building a database of teaching evaluations and professor profiles when it was approached by Best to participate in the AMS initiative. The faculty sees the benefits of the TEI for both students and professors says Margery Fee, associate dean for Arts.

“I think this is great step forward. My feeling is that we have some excellent teachers here at UBC and some average, and some even below average, and this will help professors get their competitive urges going.”

Best admits that some faculties, like Arts, are more interested in TEI than others. She hopes that when the Arts site launches in spring 2004, it will spur all faculties to participate.

“Students have been asking for evaluations for a long time and it’s a question of finding a way that’s accessible to students and representative of faculty members and beneficial to the university and I think this model addresses all those needs.”

- - -  

Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

to top | UBC.ca » UBC Public Affairs

UBC Public Affairs
310 - 6251 Cecil Green Park Road, Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z1
tel 604.822.3131 | fax 604.822.2684 | e-mail public.affairs@ubc.ca

© Copyright The University of British Columbia, all rights reserved.