Can You Trust Online Reviews?
In this day and age where a person is “searchable” verbally and – the author of this article on food critics asserts – visually, a food critic may not be able to remain anonymous long enough to give a fair evaluation. The restaurant will recognize him/her and alter its service.
Putting aside what I think are a number of pitfalls with this food critic argument, it’s interesting to consider how blogs and online forums and the like can impact TEFL in a similarly murky way.
Certainly they open up the possibility for average people to share their experience of particular employers or schools; you don’t have to be a guidebook writer (or whatever the TEFL equivalent of that is) to have your say. Obviously, though, those with a certain platform are likely to be given more credibility than others.
The Internet also leaves open the possibility of concealing your identity. And when the Internet is known as such a powerful tool in TEFL – and it is – I personally would put very very little stock in online reviews (or at least not rely on them as a main source of information) because you have no idea where they are coming from.
According to me, online “reviews” are valuable as ideas of what to look out for. I wouldn’t chose an employer simply because someone said “Yeah, they’re fine” – but if they explained why…and that was logical… and then I checked with the employer… and he/she answered to my satisfaction, that might be enough. Reading reviews can also give you ideas of what “tactics” to look out for. And there is a difference between sites providing general information and those recommending or criticizing a specific school or course provider.
Is a particular teacher’s (or employer’s) story true? I would go so far as to caution people against assuming so. It could be but it’s safer not to count on it – there are just so many reasons for people to mislead and it’s so easy to do so. Still, hearing about what went wrong can give you great insight into how to avoid that or what to look out for.
And just to be clear – I include myself in this group of online people not to put your faith in! I’m glad that I come across as a decent person to ask, but use my tips and experiences and advice to guide your decision and inform your own judgment…don’t rely on me personally!