The "My Lecturer" Website: Students trump government

A while back Julia Gillard suggested the ...My University“ website would force boring university lecturers to lift their game. But it seems that the government has missed the boat to stir up these old bores. And a group of students has taken the initiative to stir up the insomnia-curers on their own terms.

This initiative, the My Lecturer website:, brings to Australia an idea that started in the US with websites such as Rate My Professor. Admirably, the Australian site is cautious about defamation and actively encourages students to be constructive in their feedback. But is it a good thing or a bad thing for Australian higher education?

For proponents of open academia, a growing movement which believes all educational materials and information should be publicly available; it might be a good thing. But for traditionalists, it might just be the scariest thing in the world!

Open academia includes initiatives such as Wikiversity, a site dedicated to enabling academics to put their course materials in the public realm, are growing in popularity. Such initiatives threaten to disrupt higher education industries such as textbook publishers and even research journals as a growing number of academics move their materials into the public realm. This is significant as entire industries worldwide are at stake, but so is the future of higher education.

Open education asks the question of existing education institutions: Who is education for? From a purely liberal perspective, open education provides everyone with equality of opportunity – if the materials are freely available, we all have the opportunity to receive an education. We might have to pay for the qualification, but at least the education is free.

But many traditionalists see this 'power to the people' approach as little short of a 'dumbing down' of the best of our educational institutions. Indeed, a colleague recently recalled to me a documentary from years ago where an old British professor suggested that ...bad teaching is a tradition. How else would we get our students to learn for themselves?“ Certainly some food for thought there!

But what of the My Lecturer site? And just how 'open' should open education be?

The furore over the 'My School' website saw unintended consequences such as teachers helping students to cheat 'no doubt so that either the teachers' careers were not jeopardised or that the students' education wasn't seen in a bad light. Or more likely both. But government should have seen this coming from a mile off. Everybody knows that Ivy League tables are anti-egalitarian – or dare I say it – they are just plain unAustralian.

What makes the My Lecturer site different is that it is not something imposed by government, but it is an initiative from the students themselves. As one who encourages students to take the initiative and stake a claim in their own future, it is very difficult to see the My Lecturer site as anything but positive.

Traditionalists might be opposed, but these same people are more likely to be those who have some hidden interest to protect. The big test will be whether the open academia crew accept this type of openness, or if they are only in favour of openness which they themselves create

The times are a-changing for the higher education sector, but the same is true for most sectors of the economy. Indeed, access to technology is fulfilling what Manuel Castells (among others) predicted well before today's capabilities were a practical reality. But where does it all end?

From the very early findings of my research into the use of openness via technology in organisations to date, openness results in higher quality, increased productivity, better recognition of high-performing individuals, and overall improved organisational performance. It is simply more difficult for poor performance to go unchecked in an open organisational culture.

But does this justify the PM targeting 'boring lecturers' with the My University website? It is a bit rich when the leader of a political party that can barely form government makes an assumption about the performance of individual lecturers in a sector she hasn't experienced for many years.

But John Howard held a similar view a few years ago and provided funding to universities on the basis of workplace relations reforms, including the introduction of individual performance management techniques as a condition of funding.

Strangely enough, some of us lowly lecturers have already been putting our teaching feedback from these publicly-funded ...performance initiatives“ into the public realm on our blogs or even Wikiversity. The original intention by government may have been to intimidate, but with the majority of lecturers focused on providing the best possible skills and intellectual development for our students, and many of us seeing the benefits of openness, it should be no surprise that government misunderstands the higher education sector.

But now that the My Lecturer website has emerged from out of nowhere to trump bad lecturers, reward good lecturers, and provide future students with feedback which is not tainted by a self-interested government, it is my hope that the government's My University website is passé. For that, the team of students who put the My Lecturer website together are to be applauded and I trust that the new model will break down the old hierarchy of higher education.

Openness is, after all, in all of our best interests.