SOURCERERS: R.J. and Roxanne Martino.
On a new website where UALR students anonymously evaluate UALR faculty, only one student so far has bothered to assess a certain professor we’ll call I.M. Plentysmart. In the “Comments” section of the evaluation form, the student gushed: “I took this class at 7 p.m. and amazingly I was able to stay up, take notes, and follow along with the lecture. Anyone that can keep me up is a GREAT teacher.”
Despite what seemed a ringing endorsement, Dr. Plentysmart’s numerical scores in several categories of assessment were only good enough to earn him an overall rating of “Average Professor.” (The other possibilities are “Above Average” and “Below Average.”) Either the other UALR professors are setting a high curve, or this student is a tough grader.
Or maybe the system still needs some adjusting. UALRsource.org has only been around for about a year, and student evaluation of professors is not the site’s only function, perhaps not even the most important, though it may be the most interesting. The greatest traffic is generated by students buying and selling used books online, according to the founder, R.J. Martino, 22, a 2004 UALR graduate. Martino says he got the idea for the site when he was a student, and the UALR campus bookstore offered him $9 for a book he’d paid $75 for.
“I knew there must be another student who needed that book, but didn’t want to pay $75 for it,” Martino said. He decided it would be a wonderful thing if student buyers and sellers could go online and deal directly with each other. He further decided that it would be even more wonderful if students could review professors online too, so their fellow students would know what to expect.
Students can register for free with UALRsource.org, and more than 1,000 have done so, Martino said. He and his business partner, Roxanne Martino, who is also his sister, hope to make the site profitable through the sale of advertising.
Most of the students who evaluate professors on the website don’t include comments. And any who submit highly derogatory comments will be disappointed. Site administrators censor those before they can appear online.
“We’ve had a couple that were completely rude and inappropriate,” Martino said. “We deleted them.”
Other than the comments, students grade the professors from 1 to 5 in several categories: “The professor is effective at teaching,” “The professor is courteous and respectful of students,” “The professor has a positive attitude toward giving extra help outside of class,” and so on. In the case of Professor Plentysmart, although the student evaluator raved about him in the comments section, he did not give Plentysmart a rating higher than 4 in any of the categories. For having a positive attitude toward giving help outside the classroom, the professor got only a 2 out of a possible 5. And in another category, the one that may be the most important to users of the site, Plentysmart was given only a 3 out of a possible 5. That category is “This class was an easy ‘A.’ ”
On the other hand, the three students who evaluated another UALR professor (one comparatively well-known to the general public) gave her 5s across the board, including that important category of “This class was an easy ‘A.’ ” She was labeled “Above Average.” Another fairly prominent professor has thus far been evaluated by only one student. He was given a 1 rating (the lowest) in every category and labeled “Below Average.” Some of these labels will doubtless change as more students participate in the evaluations.
The website is independent of UALR. Martino said he’d had no complaints from either faculty or administrators. “I’m sure the bookstore doesn’t like us,” he said. “We allow students to sell books for 2 or 3 times what the bookstore will give them.” The bookstore is privately operated — by Barnes and Noble — under a contract with UALR.
Other college campuses have sites similar to UALRsource, Martino said, but many of those are national sites, covering many colleges and universities. “We’re locally oriented,” he said. “We connect people at the local level. A lot of times, when you buy a book on one of those other sites, you have to worry about shipping. With us, you know that when you meet John at the library at 4, that’s when you’ll get your book.”