This week, the CREATE team’s Lou Howson reflects on the unexpected pressures of social media study support groups.
I’m watching the number in the little red bubble that hovers over the WhatsApp logo on my homescreen. I already know it’s the help group set up for my doctorate, there are now at least 20 comments, it’s 09:30.
I know it was set up with good intentions, but the sudden barrage of comments, questions and concerns is an unwelcome intrusion any time of the day. I don’t want to be thinking about my doctorate 24/7, but ‘ping’ more messages about what the assignment brief could possibly mean, ‘ping’ what kind of format are they expecting? ‘Ping’ let’s set up a meeting and share our assignment plans.
This whole scenario is causing me undue stress and anxiety, I just want to get on with it and this constant sharing and one-upmanship doesn’t seem to be helping anyone. So what do I do?
- Leave the group and be one of the “others”? Potentially offending the group and being excluded as I’m no longer “one of the gang”.
- Mute the group every week? (but that red bubble is going nowhere!)
- Try to ignore the intrusion, it may be helping others and I might find a useful comment… one day.
This gets me thinking about students in general. These “helpful” groups on WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media are something that we (as tutors and teachers) look upon as showing dedication and initiative, but are they causing even more anxiety for students? Are the eager few causing competitive comparison and feelings of inferiority within these groups?
I think I am a generally laid back person, but the constant stream of comments on the group are making me question whether I care enough. Am I slacking by not responding? Should I be focusing more of my time on the doctorate programme as they clearly are? Have I got the balance all wrong?
So how can we encourage people to switch off especially now when the world has changed and the distinction between work life and home life is no longer clear?
Personally, I make a conscious distinction between the apps and profiles I use for my personal life and those I use for my professional life. This enables me to log out of work mode and concentrate on being fully present when work stops. However, there are many other things we can consider for our own wellbeing and that of our students to tackle work/life balance issues, some of the things I do include:
- Muting conversations (on Whatsapp) until I am in the right headspace has worked quite well, as well as having dedicated workspace in my home.
- Only responding to work message during work time, so it doesn’t bleed into time for myself and my family (I have seen colleagues placing this caveat at the bottom of their email signature which also signals to students when they are available and models good practice that hopefully rubs off on the students too).
- Blocking out time for breaks and lunch (and not feeling guilty about taking this time as it is essential for me to be more productive).
- Joining UoB Yammer groups for conversation about things other than work when a distraction is needed (cats and crafts mainly 😊).
Plus, there are also places to find advice from within the University…