The easy way out?

Published On:
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
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With the help of azcentral.com, ASU students, along with their U of A and NAU counterparts, are now able to access teachers’ grade information in order to help with the grueling process of scheduling classes for upcoming semesters.

Azcentral has created a database that allows students to look up how many A’s, B’s, C’s, etc. a teacher has given out in his or her previous classes during the fall and spring semesters of the 2007 to 2008 school year.

Furthermore, the database provides students with the opportunity to compare potential teachers and decide which would be best for their schedule and possibly their GPA.

“[The database] is a barometer of what a student can expect in a class,” says 24-year-old Matt Wynn, creator of the University Grades database. “I used the same thing when I was in college to pick my classes… I found that it helped a lot.”

Wynn says that his access to teacher-rating tools helped him to figure out what kind of class load he would be taking. However, it also lead him to take “boring” classes and miss out on “great” professors because of his resistance towards harsh grading, he said.

“If I could redo things, I’d probably make this information a smaller piece of my decision, but it’s undoubtedly useful,” he says.

The public can access the database by going to datacentral.azcentral.com and clicking on “Class grades at Arizona universities” located under the subtitle “Education.” The link takes viewers directly to ASU data, but from there, they have the option of switching to NAU or U of A statistics.

The information provided by the University Grades database was obtained from the three universities in August and was originally part of an extensive investigation for a story about grade trends and the meaning behind particular grades given out by particular teachers, Wynn says.

However, the media outlet decided to hold off on the story and launch an interactive tool in late-October to benefit students, Wynn says.

“We ultimately decided to post the information so students could put it to use and hold off on an exhaustive analysis until we had more than one year’s worth of information,” Wynn says.

Wynn says that he believes the majority of ASU professors are included in the database, along with some teacher assistants and graduate students who maintain a teaching role. But certain requirements restrict all classes from being included.

Only classes with a certain number of students were incorporated into the database so as to negate any concerns about student privacy. And only classes that use the traditional grading scale were included.

In order to maximize one’s results, Wynn recommends exhausting other sites like RateMyProfessors.com along with the azcentral database.

“Rate My Professors has a lot more detail and opens up a lot of nuance,” Wynn says. “But it’s not objective.”

The combination of details from RateMyProfessors.com and hard numbers from the University Grades database can help students today, but with time, the azcentral interactive site will expand to include many aspects of other teacher-rating sites.

“This is honestly the first step. Next year, with another layer of data, we should be able to open up all sorts of new options and interactives,” Wynn says. “If that happens, you can bet I’ll be using a lot of the great ideas other sites have to beef up our offering.”

Students have mixed feelings about the database and its purpose. Brent Robinson, a 27-year-old non-degree seeking major at ASU says he felt that it was a good thing overall with just a few disadvantages.

“It’s obvious that students could maximize their grade potential [by using the database],” Robinson says. “But it might predispose students to do poorly, and feel like they don’t have a chance when they know their class is harder than others’.”

Along with students, some teachers remain skeptical of the database’s benefits when compared to its detriments.

“I have a feeling that the azcentral database would contribute to the trend to dilute what’s important about learning,” says Thad Botham, a philosophy teacher at ASU. “High marks may be one type of benefit, and high marks from a high-mark-giving instructor may benefit you in the short term, but on the cheap, costing you later.”

Botham says he feels students should use the tool when scheduling their classes for semesters to come but as one tool among many.

“My hunch is that the azcentral database will disproportionately disadvantage those students who do not have a clear and accurate idea of what’s good for them,” Botham says. “If a particular student reliably chooses only those instructors whose previous students reliably got high grades, then the overall GPA of this student will likely not reflect the quality of the student’s efforts and accomplishments.”

There are both pros and cons to using the database when scheduling classes. But as long as the tool serves as a guide, rather than as a basis for one’s decision, then it can prove to be more beneficial than damaging.

reach the reporter at sasha.malekooti@asu.edu.