ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.
What if there was a Web site where members of Generation Y gathered to say that you were rad or bunk or hot or not. If you're a college professor, probably you already know about RateMyProfessors.com. It's a Web site where teachers have been fawned over or filleted by students for years. From member station KUOW of Seattle, Phyllis Fletcher has this report.
(Soundbite of music)
PHYLLIS FLETCHER: How would David Lee Roth pick a teacher. You think he'd want one who's hot? If he were going to college today, he could go online and pick the hottest woman teaching college in North America.
Unidentified Man: What do you think the teacher's going to look like this year?
FLETCHER: At RateMyProfessors.com. And her name would be Dacia Charlesworth.
Dr. DACIA CHARLESWORTH (Robert Morris University): I guess maybe since I was runner-up for homecoming queen, maybe this is my moment here.
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FLETCHER: Charlesworth has a PhD in speech communication. She teaches communication at Robert Morris University near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Charlesworth is a lone voice in her department at RMU. Maybe it's no surprise, but she like the RateMyProfessors Web site.
The site rates almost 800,000 professors from 6,000 schools in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia. Charlesworth says she likes it, not just because her students say she's hot. She likes the feedback she gets about her teaching.
Dr. CHARLESWORTH: I even go so far as sending my students the link to my rating. That way they can do it and I'm making it easy for them to do. That's when the site becomes useful, because in the aggregate you can look at how that professor performed.
FLETCHER: Charlesworth has over 230 students chiming in on her performance. That's way more than the typical amount. She sees negative comments as opportunities to improve her teaching. Most students post to the site unprompted by their teachers, and a lot of them go there to talk smack.
Mr. DEMARO DIXON(ph) (Student, Robert Morris University): Well, one of the coldest things I've ever seen written about was actually a teacher that's around here - I'm not going to reveal her name...
FLETCHER: It's not Charlesworth.
Mr. DIXON: They said that this teacher was very boring and that it was a waste of time because she was extremely biased toward women and she hates African Americans.
FLETCHER: That's Demaro Dixon. He's a junior at Robert Morris. I found him having lunch in the RMU cafeteria with his friends. Dixon says he posts to the site when he thinks a teacher was great or when he has a really bad experience in a class.
But is the site useful?
Mr. DIXON: I believe that 50 percent of the information on the site is totally correct. The other 25 may be wrong and 25 may be biased. Just based on the fact that we're all humans and we're dealing with certain experiences that we encounter, and it may not be (unintelligible) situation for other students that want to take this class.
FLETCHER: So, Dixon says, you can't use the site to predict how good the teacher will be for you. The owners of the site say it's just an online version of talking to your friends in a dorm.
William Desantis(ph) and Patrick Nagel(ph) are 24, recent college grads themselves. They bought the now seven-year-old site from its founder last year. Desantis says it's only fair for students to be able to say what they want about teachers.
Mr. WILLIAM DESANTIS (RateMyProfessors.com): Because it can open someone's eyes to saying, you know, maybe they're right. Maybe my lectures do go a little slow or maybe I do, you know...
Mr. PATRICK NAGEL (RateMyProfessors.com): Maybe I could improve in this area.
Mr. DESANTIS: Exactly. And if it's getting into a folder and being put in a file and you're never really forced to look or to observe the ratings of your consumers, how are you supposed to improve? Constructive criticism can be a very helpful tool.
FLETCHER: But trash talk doesn't help anyone. Hugo Schwyzer teaches at Pasadena City College in California. He has a PhD from UCLA in history. This fall, a bunch of negative comments suddenly showed up on his RateMyProfessors page. One comment said he always keeps students late. He says he doesn't. Another comment said he was fat.
Mr. HUGO SCHWYZER (UCLA): I run 50 miles a week. I'm a little bit of an obsessive exercise junkie. I am pretty darn confident every time I take off my clothes to get in the shower I'm not a fat man.
FLETCHER: So he's pretty sure some people posting nasty comments haven't even met him. Schwyzer is also rated one of the hottest teachers on RateMyProfessors. At last count he was number five. He says that whole thing is ridiculous and shouldn't be part of the site. But the biggest problem to him is nobody knows who's rating anyone.
Mr. SCHWYZER: My mother could be rating me. My worst enemy could be rating me. I could be rating myself. My colleague with a grudge against me could be rating me. And that called into question the whole legitimacy of the site.
FLETCHER: The owners of RateMyProfessors admit that's a problem. They say they're working on a way to fix it. They've also been working on a new feature. Students can post photos of their teachers, something professors Schwyzer and Charlesworth aren't too crazy about.
So you want to know, are they hot? Both professors had the same answer. Their spouses say yes. Phyllis Fletcher, NPR News.
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