Much hullabaloo has been made in recent months about the unadulterated, privacy-be-forgotten, and questionable use of MySpace by students, especially teenage students. In an era when older generations are consumed with the fears of identity theft and stolen credit information, students are apparently “bearing all” on their MySpace home pages, allowing every stranger, stalker, and predator on the internet to easily dig through their personal lives. Now, I know that not all students are using MySpace to unwittingly make themselves a prime target for online predators, and not all students are posting embarrassing and compromising information in a very public place; the internet. In fact, the honesty of MySpace translates very nicely into several other sites on the web, including a quite popular site that allows students (and parents) to rate their teachers online.
RateMyTeachers.com is a unique site that encourages those traditionally ignored (students) to join the public discourse on improving education. I know what you’re thinking; a bunch of bored high school students joining a site so they can bash their teachers and continue to prove that students should not have any say in a teacher’s evaluation. However, after using this site for more than a year now to see how teachers in my school building and district are rated (sadly I haven’t been rated yet), a number of surprisingly honest ratings both for the good and bad have reaffirmed a belief of mine; Students need to be engaged with a sense of mutual respect and have their thoughts validated by others. In fact, of all the reviews and ratings on their site (which number in the hundreds of thousands), over 70% of them are favorable, proving that students are an excellent indication of which teachers work and which teachers need to get to work on improving their classroom skills.
Why am I blogging about this? How does it relate to practical uses of technology in the classroom? For one, it’s an excellent, and quite simple, example of students coming together to share, collaborate, and build a knowledge base online. Secondly, it proves that a site with quite a large potential for abuse is actually creating something quite useful for parents and students (helping to decide which teacher to take next year for Chemistry 1 or Intro to British Lit.). Most importantly, it allows teachers that are open to change (and shouldn’t we all be?) to communicate with their students in a manor that might not be as free and open in the classroom. The owners of the site are first to mention that it’s not a perfect solution to helping teachers improve the quality of their teaching. And there are plenty of bad apples willing to lay down some derisive language about their teachers, but the overall experience is a powerful motivator to connect with your students on their playing field, and is an eye-opener for those teachers that haven’t released just how seriously many students take their education.
So if you’re brave enough, go take a look and see how you’ve been rated. Braver still? Share the site with your students, and see how honest they are at home when they start rating you, then join as a teacher and start a dialogue with your students. You just might be surprised at what you discover.