Monday, December 12, 2011

Who is behind, and why do they have so much information about me? is a website that lets students compare professors. The main thing they have over sites like is that they have access to the complete grade records of each instructor, so you can select the instructor who gives out the highest number of As. Here is my profile.

I'm happy that this information is published. I would have offered it to anyone who asked. But how did get it? Apparently, someone at LCCC has given them access to our enterprise level software, as have people at many many other colleges and universities. Now is a for-profit company that makes its money from advertising, and probably also selling information on its registered users. They have been accused of sending spam using the emails they gather.

The founder of got a fawning article in the New York Times, which strikes me as supremely misleading, given that they never mention that the point of the website is to find easy graders.

My question is this: if is making money using information we gave them, why don't we get a cut? There is no reason they should be the ones to make money off information that we collect.


Evelyn Brister said...

Unbelievable. What's in it for the universities? Why give up this information?

It's been very difficult at my university even for department chairs to get information about grade distributions, and until this year I never saw the data on my own grade distributions. It was illuminating! It increased my resolve to be a tougher grader--until I saw the distributions of my colleagues. Now I feel like there is social norming which would push me to grade easier.

My department chair tried to instigate a discussion about normalizing grade distributions because there was such a difference among sections of the same course. E.g., one section of an Intro course produced fewer than 5% A's while another section produced over 85%, and those percentages tracked with particular professors over time. But the discussion was scuttled because my colleagues took it as criticism of the quality of their teaching.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Uniformity in grading standards is an important fairness issue for students. It is easy for departments like math, where the curriculum is very standardized. Our math department actually has all instructors using the same tests.

I think simply publicizing grade distributions will do a lot to push people to uniformity. I just don't understand why these guys are the ones to be publishing the info.

I suspect that a lot of this data was accessed without explicit permission from anyone with authority. It may not be stolen, but it may be a gray area of the law. One possibility is that there is a backdoor in the enterprise-level software that schools use, and just has access to all the data for everyone who uses that software. (We use PeopleSoft.)

Anonymous said...

At my university, they get the information through FOIA requests. Nothing gray or back-door about it. (Although it does raise the question of why the University doesn't just publish the information itself).

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...


I guess the grades we give out are public information, just like our salaries. I imagine colleges don't put this information out themselves because they don't want to make it any easier for people to find this information, just as they don't want to post salaries on their own website. It can certainly cause tension between faculty.

On the other hand, if the information is a matter of public record, why shouldn't colleges be more transparent. It beats having some private firm make money selling what is actually public property.