As students select their classes over the next few weeks, most will turn to the advice of friends rather than online course review sites, which some say are incomplete and incomprehensive.
There are a number of online course review options available to students, including the Undergraduate Student Government’s Course Guide, ratemyprofessor.com and the university’s course evaluation website. Many students, however, do not find any of these options particularly useful.
“I’ve found that I trust my friends’ judgments,” said Blake Spencer, a sophomore majoring in business administration.
The university’s site provides statistical data based on the course evaluations distributed in classes each semester, which consists of 12 questions on a scale of one (poor) through five (excellent). Ratemyprofessor.com and USG’s site offer numerical data and free response questions.
“We hope that as many students as possible participate, and if they don’t, then the data is not as accurate,” said Gene Bickers, vice provost for undergraduate programs.
The site features reviews dating back a number of years and is particularly helpful if searching for a professor who has not taught in a while, said Bickers. A user can search by school or professor and download results into a Microsoft Excel file.
The data is not enough for some students, however.
“It’s kind of helpful, but not really,” said Alan Chang, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering. “There’s nowhere to comment.”
Many students agreed they prefer the course guides that include free response answers.
“I try to see what people say about the professor’s effectiveness and whether or not they’re easy to learn from and if they’re boring,” said Vivien Lee, a senior majoring in East Asian languages and cultures and psychology, who said she most often uses ratemyprofessor.com.
USG’s website also includes free response answers, but because the site was relaunched only two years ago, many courses and professors are still missing.
All of the information collected on the course guide website is voluntary information from students.
Each student who logs on responds to five general questions — such as how effective was the course in achieving its goals and how interesting was the course on a scale of one (not effective) through seven (very effective) — followed by four free response questions and overall course recommendation percentages.
“Students can get a more holistic look,” said Andrew Matson, USG director of academic affairs. “The site provides students with more information to make their own judgments on each course.”
Still, because it is voluntary, the offerings are incomplete.
“I feel like they’re pretty effective, I just wish there were more reviews,” Lee said.
USG plans to launch an advertising campaign around the time of the registration period this semester to let people know about the course guide and encourage students to use the site.
“If we could get more students to use the course guide, it would be perfect,” Matson said. “The more you help, the more you help everyone.”
Students feel there is no one source that has all of the answers when searching for course evaluation information, and USC’s sites are no exception.
“It gives you a general idea so you know what to expect when you first see your professor, but other than that, it’s not really helpful,” Chang said.
In the end, most students say they choose to rely on information from friends.
“A large part of it is asking people who have already taken classes,” said Michael Soh, a freshman majoring in civil engineering who was not aware of how to access the course evaluation resources USC offers.