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Social Media and Status Barriers with Tutors

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Something I’ve found in my experience as a tutor is that the way students interact with you in a classroom context is completely different to their interactions with you through social media. When you’re running a tutorial, you hold all the power. You have prepared your slides, you’re well informed or researched on what you’re talking about, you’ve done the course before, and you can influence their grades for the better or worse. I think they pick up on that in both a conscious and subconscious way, and it changes their mannerisms; they treat you with a given amount of respect as a person with a perceived ‘higher status’ despite you being the same age or younger than they are. It’s quite odd that this happens almost automatically regardless of whether you earned that respect. It’s one of the reasons I’ve found it really important to walk around and ask students about their progress with the project, because they won’t verbalise these questions to you like they would any other peer unless prompted to.

On the other side of that, you have social media influencing coursework in a more informal way. At my university, courses are encouraged to start Facebook groups (with their class representatives as the page admins) as a way for students to communicate with each other. Tutors are a part of this group too, but our administration is careful to remind us that it is not our job to be answering questions for students, merely to be aware of the issue that are coming up and try to address them in class; during our work hours instead of personal time.

I had an experience recently where a student had posted in the page, asking the class representatives to get the lecturer to change the deadline due to the fact that she found it inconvenient to have to come in to uni during the weekend to submit her assignment. I responded on behalf of admin commenting that our lecturer would not be changing the deadline due to a number of reasons, the most prominent reason being that the period given the complete the assignment was more than enough and should allow students to be able to submit early. Immediately the status barriers came down. I was no longer a person whose information was to be trusted, I was just another faceless name on a screen; I was an easy target, and there were no consequences for open rudeness or disrespect. Without going into it too much, I received a pretty personally attacking response from the student. That interaction continued to influence my mood for the rest of the evening, and I was honestly pretty upset about it. I wasn’t sure how the genuine advice of a tutor could receive that kind of response, or how the student felt it was ok to speak to a peer that way?

I guess the answer to that lies in the nature of Facebook itself. The whole thing is a forum for spreading negativity. Sure, there’s a lot of cute dog pics and the occasional positive news story, but beyond the memes and selfies, I don’t really see a lot of positivity in any corner of the site. Most text posts focus on complaining on some aspect of what’s wrong in a person’s life, or with the service they experienced at a café, and so on and so on. I feel like the only explanation to what happened is that when I responded as the first commenter on the students post, I became the face of all of her issues toward the assignment and its deadline. If there’s a point I’m trying to make, it’s that there’s a reason the University has its own discussion board. Facebook is really great for students to complain about the course, but as soon as you step in and try help you become the embodiment of all their frustrations and misplaced anger. It’s not fair and it’s annoying, but it’s part of the nature of social media that status barriers get torn down. My advice to myself, for future reference, is just to stay the hell out of it.