Seumas Macneil ’19, Patrick Frenett ’19 and Lucas Sheiner ’19 created a website called “Rate Our Courses” in the spring to improve the college course selection process for students.
Every semester, students at the college will select new courses for the next semester. During this time, they read through course descriptions posted by professors and register for the courses they are interested in. However, students are often unable to find additional information to help them in their selection, including professors’ teaching methods and the difficulty of course material. This issue inspired Macneil, Frenett and Sheiner to create an online platform for students to share reviews about each of the courses they take.
Unlike the already existing website “Rate My Professors,” which operates on many college campuses around the country, Macneil said that their site focuses more on the course than on the professor.
“The different angle is it’s more about the course, because the professor can change a lot over the different courses,” Macneil said. “Rate My Professor[s] is good at a big school, but it is not good at Amherst … there’s, like, one review for each [professor].”
“The genesis of it … it’s a very Amherst-specific problem and a very small-liberal-arts-college-specific problem in that you have the ability to choose so many more courses,” Frenett added.
With “Rate Our Courses,” students can write a review for each class they have taken by filling out the name of the department and the semester during which they took the class. Students can rate the course based on interest, difficulty and workload and describe the professor’s teaching methods and level of engagement. Reviewers can also add their final grades to provide more context and write additional comments.
“This is essentially emulating the conversations that you have with your friends before every semester,” Frenett said. “This is built for people who don’t have that access … I’m the only one out of my friends that does computer science stuff, so I don’t really know who to talk to about [course feedback].”
The idea for the website was first generated by Macneil and Sheiner, who realized together that “Rate My Professors” was not the best course ratings site for Amherst.
The biggest challenge, Frenett said, was “getting the content on the website itself.”
“We spent last semester just hounding everyone that we knew to put in every review [for each of their classes],” he said.
To maintain a space for candid reviews, the three co-founders created a login system that only gives access to users with an Amherst student email. “We don’t really want the professors themselves to be able to look at this information,” Frenett said. “Otherwise, the reviews that people are writing will be inherently less honest.”
Students began writing and posting reviews on the site in April this year, and the site has now garnered more than 860 reviews. Macneil, Frenett and Sheiner are currently making improvements to the site, including designing layout, adding a search function and evaluating the way students interact with the site.
Although the website is relatively new, Macneil and Frenett said their encounters with students have showcased the website’s impact on the student community.
“Someone came up to me in Valentine [Dining Hall] the other day and was like, ‘Oh, I was looking for my courses and really liked your site,’” Frenett said.