Thursday, June 25, 2009

What are you afraid of?

This is probably a good thing:

German teacher loses court battle against rate-your-teacher website

I can understand both sides here, but I believe that a low ranking from a biased student who failed the course would be offset from a biased student who aced the course. Eventually - given a large enough number of reviewers - a true evaluation of that teacher will come out.

I can remember even as early as grade 6 having a teacher who loaded on the homework, was very strict, and even though all students despised him/her, most were quick to agree that he/she was a great teacher. Students recognize when a teacher is passionate about their job and when they care about pushing students to their potentials.

Anyways, I bring this case up as I feel that Online education (especially those attempting to market a product) should embrace rating systems as well, either through their own LMS or through third party sites. While most departments of eLearning products will create surveys for their own internal feedback, they should instead strive to create a recognized quality learning experience that is rated publicly by their users. The current and new generations expect to see user ratings, and when a learning product has a five star rating with "76 learners rated this product" it will have a stronger affect on their decision then having a stock photograph with a quote from 'Billy'...not that there's anything wrong with that.

Don't be afraid to show what users think of your products. Earn some gold stars. Plus user ranking is so web 2.0!


  1. That's a bit of naive assumption. The problem is that a group of people with a common adgenda (positive or negative) can skew the rankings quite easily. We see this pretty often where companies 'astroturf' to simulate grass-roots movements.

    Does that mean that that these services aren't useful? No, but an effort needs to made to keep people from gaming the system.

  2. You are absolutely correct Dana, but I think there is a key difference between an open reviewing system (Yelp!, ratemyteacher) and a closed reviewing system such as Ebay.

    If the course review system is only open to paid Students, the quality of the reviews would be much higher.

    Thank you for the great comment (and my first!) I think you've seperated this issue into Do students have the right to rating their teachers? and How much can we actually trust review sites?

  3. I think the answer to Q1 is of course they have the right to rate their teachers (although the whole notion of treating students as "customers" is dangerous territory that I won't get into here)...unfortunately the answer to Q2 is that we can trust review sites about as far as we can throw them. User ratings are invariably skewed toward the negative, since unsatisfied customers are far more motivated (therefore likely) to go to the trouble of posting a rating/review. Far fewer satisfied customers feel a strong urge to comment. So I guess as long as you keep in mind that the overall ratings will tend toward being lower due to the "pissed off people" effect then you can adjust your expectations accordingly.

  4. "Far fewer satisfied customers feel a strong urge to comment."

    I disagree, IMDB as a model shows that a movies reviews are generally skewed to be positive as opposed to negative, as individuals with a passion for films seem to see it as their duty to battle low reviews.

    Furthermore, in peer review sites (such as ebay) there is motivation for positive reviews so that a positive review would be sent back.

    I think there is a variety of motivations and scenarios to consider before making a blanket statement about online reviews. I am of the opinion that if implemented well, they can be of significant help to the users/clients in making a decision about enrolling, and also to the institution in evaluating the success of it's products.

  5. Point noted - I shouldn't have made a blanket statement, and IMDB is a good example of positive bias. I do however still think my argument holds true for sites like RateMyProfessors...the grudge mentality oftentimes rules the inputs there, unless it turns into a popularity contest, with professors urging students to fill their sites with lavish praise. Either way, I tend to call the validity of the ratings into question. As for other sites, I have no idea what kind of incentives are put in place to impact reviews.

  6. You are right there, JD, the tendency to judge education as a product is questionable.

    However, the need to improve the quality of education and pedagogy is understandable too.
    So, how can a sensible 'quality process' be put in place?

    At our school some teachers have suggested obligatory pear visits, but with a duty of secrecy about the outcome, on both the visitor's and the visitee's parts. If the direction wants to know the outcome, the teacher could write a brief report expliciting his / her development process.

    However, some teachers may also want to know what their students think of their teaching abilities. This is a slippery slope because many children are spoiled and everybody wants to read their wishes from their lips. In spite of this, appropriate forms handed out by teachers could do the trick.

    Teaching must remain a vocation. Putting people under pressure is not useful. Teaching efficiency has not got anything to do with 'customer satisfaction'. Teaching / learning with fun is not always possible. The teachers are the specialists of pedagogy, not the students.