Credible Reviews are Hard to Find (Op-ed)

Mathieu Deflem
www.mathieudeflem.net

Op-ed published in The Gamecock, University of South Carolina, Vol. 97, No. 44, November 17, 2003, p. 4.

Cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2003. “Credible Reviews are Hard to Find.” Op-ed. The Gamecock, November 17, p. 4.



Considering Student Government's endorsement of the Web site TeacherReviews.com, there are many problems involved with the use of such an online service.

While we should always encourage open dialogue among students and teachers in evaluating one another's performance, relinquishing control to a private Web site outside of USC may not be the best way to foster useful learning conditions.

Forgoing personal contacts among students to get information on their teachers, students using the site enter an impersonal system that is deprived of any sense of a common commitment to the learning process.

A privately owned Web site system not only represents a generalized system of distrust, it is redundant.

The departments in our university use teacher evaluations which come with much better control mechanisms than any private Web site could offer. Our evaluations are regulated by USC's policies and procedures and are legally controlled by the state of South Carolina. While our system might not be perfect, we ought to implement it the best way we can and change it where we see fit.

It could be proposed, for instance, to report the summary statistics of the current evaluations via the university server. Likewise, teachers in the university ought to be encouraged to develop their Web pages and offer educational materials for their students.

A central problem with TeacherReviews.com is that there is no quality control and no accountability. On the contrary, the TeacherReviews.com Web site comes with a long list of disclaimers, including that the contents is offered "on an 'as is' basis" and that "no representations or warranties of any kind" are implied.

The site owner even specifies that he makes "no claims or representations as to the accuracy, completeness or truth of any material" on the Web site.

Worse yet, the owner of TeacherReviews.com adds a legalistic disclaimer that "under no circumstances will Teacher Reviews.com be liable for direct, indirect, incidental or any other type of damages" resulting from using the Web site. Some service! Then what is the value of T-shirts and stickers that advertise for such a site?

Can students only expect SG to adopt strategies that are "cost-effective" without an attempt to appeal to faculty and the university administration to collaborate on planning useful educational tools? Or can and should students expect qualified and committed teachers and the very best efforts from their university to foster an environment of learning?

There is an intrinsic value to education without third-party interference.

Students should expect the best from their teachers, as much as teachers expect the same from their students. Resigning to an online, Web-based system that is not part of our university will surely not be the best way to attain our educational goals.

Students and teachers should make their own university, not rely on others do it for them.