South Australian teachers are outraged by the website RateMyTeachers.com.
The site asks students to anonymously rate the performance of teachers in categories titled: Easiness, Helpfulness, Clarity, Popularity and Overall Quality. So, why are teachers outraged? What is the problem with sites that rate performance?
After all, the work most of us perform is subject of review. Reviews of workplace performance, for example, are usually detailed and comprehensive. Many of you will agree that these types of performance reviews can be the source of much angst because they are usually linked to rewards. Rewards, means things like rates of pay, opportunity for promotion and so on.
The obvious difference between reviews of workplace performance and websites such as RateMyTeachers.com is that workplace performance reviews are mostly confidential while rating websites are very public.
There are other differences; the most striking being the website allows students to anonymously rate teachers while reviews of workplace performance are formal and transparent. Further, workplace reviews are usually conducted by workplace superiors or peers while RateMyTeachers.com allows students, usually seen as subordinate, to rate their superiors.
According to media reports, worried stakeholders want the site banned. The Australian Teachers Union is concerned that the careers of its members might be destroyed by unsubstantiated defamatory comments. Indeed, most of the commentary to-date focuses on the potential for defaming teachers.
Some South Australian Schools have apparently written to the South Australian Attorney-General asking that the site be banned.
Australian regulators can do little about the site because it is hosted in the United States. Sure, schools can block student access to the site but only while they are at school. Banning access could backfire - a bit like the proverbial waving of the red flag. In any event, the site is moderated and most, but certainly not all, of the publicly available comments are positive.
Similar sites are springing up all over cyberspace. Dr Score, another US site, asks patients to rate the performance of their physician. One sites asks people to rate their lawyer and another their plastic surgeon. Again, most of these rating sites allow rater anonymity.
Anonymity is the main problem. The validity of comments posted on such rating sites is suspect. Imagine a student who received a lower than expected grade for their work posted scathing but unfair comments about a teacher. Imagine a student posting defamatory comments just because they feel like it.
Of course, there is concern about inappropriate postings but these concerns are easily overcome. I have already said that RateMyTeachers.com is moderated. Teachers can look at and add comments to the site too. In other words mechanisms that allow review of the comments have been established and can obviously be refined as needed.
Isn’t that a strong feature of the Internet? Internet content is easily accessible and therefore subject to intense scrutiny which, in turn, leads to commentary and review - that’s what’s happening here.
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