THE Scholarly Web - Consumers v producers

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

June 20, 2013

“Students are consumers. It is a fact of life and academics need to accept it. £50,000 of debt…”, was the defiant tweet from RateYourLecturer (@RYLecturers) following the publication of Times Higher Education’s story in which academics denounced the new website.

It started an intriguing debate between RateYourLecturer and a former student named Tamara (@UK_TX).

“As someone with loads of student debt, I knew that if things didn’t go well, 9 times out of 10, it was from my own shortcomings. Students are consumers, but they need to maintain personal responsibility,” she wrote in a series of tweets.

RateYourLecturer responded by listing a number of common student gripes posted on its site, including lecturers not being able to speak English, hardly ever showing up, never responding to emails, and clearly having “favourites” in their classes.

Its point was that there are two sides to every story.

Tamara replied that as someone who had used the US website RateMyProfessors in the past, she found that some lecturers received high student ratings only because they were “nice”, but their coursework lacked substance.

“There needs to be mechanisms to recognize the disgruntled students who threaten to boycott class because they think there is too much coursework to be done when they have had deadlines known for 6 months,” she wrote.

“Rating is something that is a good idea, but there needs to be ways to balance out the stroppy student who isn’t getting their way to the ones that are actually pointing out valid concerns.”

“That is why we have been encouraging lecturers to get involved,” wrote RateYourLecturer. “Quantity of ratings = quality.”

One of the most vocal opponents of the site to date has been Bill Cooke, head of the department of organisation, work and technology at Lancaster University Management School, who wrote a blog decrying the venture for treating lecturers like “dancing bears”.

However, his original blog incurred a critical response that he then posted separately on his site.

The response, posted under the name Nicola Kean, proclaimed his original article “embarrassing” and said it appeared to be the work of “a professor/lecturer who has to teach a couple of subjects per year but is so caught up in his own research that he really doesn’t want to (nor has the time to) go to any great depths to actually fulfill the teaching aspect of his job.”

She went on to argue that consumers have a right to comment on a product they use – whether negatively or positively – “and YES!! Students ARE CONSUMERS”, she added, echoing RateYourLecturer’s initial response.

“We can all learn from these ratings,” RateYourLecturer tweeted. “Who to avoid, who to seek out; students will force unis to recognise good teaching.”

But it was not to be the final say on a clearly contentious subject.

David Andress (@ProfDaveAndress), associate dean for research and professor of modern history at the University of Portsmouth, responded: “To which, surely, the only meaningful answer is ‘LOL’.”

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to chris.parr@tsleducation.com

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