There are all kinds of top 25 lists out there, but most of them don’t likely rank the top 25 people in a profession from multiple nations.
East Tennessee State University associate professor of psychology Chris Dula is on just such a list, having been named recently No. 24 on RateMyProfessor.com’s annual list of the highest-rated university or junior college professors.
According to ETSU, this honor places him in the 99.99th percentile of more than 1.7 million instructors at more than 7,500 schools who have been rated by more than 14 million students in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
The site is hosted by mtvU and MTV Networks, which publishes this annual list of the highest-rated university professors and junior college professors. College students use this service to anonymously rate instructors for the benefit of future students who might read these ratings. Instructors are rated on such categories as helpfulness, easiness, clarity and overall quality.
The annual top 25 list includes all instructors with at least 30 sets of student ratings, to provide statistical significance, and is derived by weighting their ratings across the previous three years and placing them in rank order. Dula placed in the 24th slot on the current RateMyProfessor list. He is the only instructor on the list from Tennessee and only one of three psychology instructors listed.
“I never dreamed that I would be in a top 25 position” on that website, Dula said. “I always found it to be a useful tool for students, because when they’re looking to take classes you have really no idea who you might be taking them from.”
He does tell students to be wary of postings on the forum because they are likely made by people who either really love or really hate a professor, but students could be able to find if professors are generally helpful, if tests come from books or lectures or what to expect from a particular class.
Dula teaches an introductory psychology course to 320 people each semester, so he has a lot of students who could potentially post about him on RateMyProfessor.com.
“And that’s the coolest thing that I do probably,” he said of teaching. “And I think everything else I do is pretty cool, so it’s like the pinnacle for me.”
Dula gets a lot of positive feedback from his students, he said. He began taking data, anonymously, from his students since he first began teaching in 1998. He has been honing everything he does to fit what students want and need since then.
“ ... I make executive decisions about what I should change and what I shouldn’t change, but I try to take in student feedback and how that shapes what I do,” he said. “Because I think that I can maximize my impact in a positive way with students if I tailor my approach and delivery to what they need and want.”
For example: He encourages students to text in class if they want to or need to rather than talk in class. This approach is intended to reduce the annoyance of other students in class who would have had to previously hear conversations between other students.
He may be widely loved but not everyone passes his tests. Dula said he tries to show students who do poorly how they can improve rather than just leaving them on their own.
In fact, he has a YouTube video showing students how to improve study skills, because some students don’t know how to study. He said he did not either when he first began college. He also has a video explaining test-taking strategy and how to eliminate anxiety related to tests.
Originally from Charlotte, N.C., Dula said he barely graduated high school and went to work in construction. He played music, too, though that never took off. He never fell in love with construction work but became competent in a few trades. He said doing trade work is hard and he has a healthy respect for those who make a living doing that. But it was not for him.
At age 24, he was tired of construction and seeking something else. He enrolled in community college despite his misgivings about school in general. That was the summer of 1992. He loved it.
“I did really well,” Dula said. “I kept working part-time.”
At some point he had two kids, a wife and a job but managed to make almost all A’s in his studies. After getting his associate’s degree, he enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. There he obtained two bachelor’s degrees in English and psychology.
Someone told him about graduate school and he applied, but was turned down because he did not know there was a strategy involved in getting accepted to graduate programs.
So he began working in the mental health field and loved it.
“It was great to be helping people,” he said, adding working in an air-conditioned building was nice too. The benefits provided by the job also were a nice change from his previous employment.
Dula applied again to graduate school with the help of others who knew how the system worked and was accepted into a graduate program at Appalachian State University. From there he went on to get his doctorate from Virginia Tech.
He was hired at ETSU in the fall of 2004. Besides teaching, Dula also is a licensed clinical psychologist and sees patients at the Family Medicine clinic on campus. He is writing an introductory psychology text book now, so he is currently not seeing patients.
“And ETSU is a wonderful place to be,” he said. “I mean, my colleagues are all nice as they can be. It’s not this hyper-competitive place. It’s a real collegial place to work, so I feel appreciated here.”
There are many amazing instructors at ETSU, he said. He said he has access to 640 students in the introductory course each year, so that means more people could potentially rate him as opposed to a professor who only teaches 150 or 200 students per year.
Perhaps the rating he obtained will expose more students to ETSU and the other quality faculty he works with, he said.
“The thing that I hold dearest in my professional life is teaching,” he said. “To be ranked, I guess, semi-internationally as one of the best according to some spontaneous, random, anonymous comments and ratings is really further confirmation that I’m doing what I ought to be doing and that I’m doing it well.”