Attacking Professors, TAs and Teachers on Social Media is Harassment
Shawn Wasserman posted on April 24, 2014 |

Our education system needs a drastic overhaul. Students and graduates are being left behind with outdated lessons, inadequate equipment, and apathetic professors or teachers. Fortunately, with the advent of the Internet, students now have a voice in the discussion to better their own education. However, this voice has at times become disruptive, inappropriate and even illegal.

Having been an educator myself – a Teaching Assistant for 2.5 years (TA) – I went in for all the right reasons. I knew how unhelpful some TA’s were during my undergrad and I wanted to give future students something better. Hard work and dedication went into everything I did, often at the expense of my own research.

However, it only takes one or two ratings from disgruntled freshmen unaccustomed to university level engineering workloads to bring your spirits (and ratings) down. Though assured by supervisors ‘this happens all the time’ and that ‘I was doing a great job’, my morale was lost and distrust settled in. For instructors facing this issue throughout their whole career, I cannot imagine the effect it would have on their performance for future students.

The BBC reports that of the UK’s NASUWT teachers' union, numbering 7500 members, one in five has received “adverse comments” online. Shockingly, it wasn’t just the teenage and young adult students chiming in either. Many of the inappropriate posts came from students less than seven years old and 25% were even from parents!

Though the news has been focusing on student suicide rates linked to online bullying, I wonder how much of the UK’s increase in teacher suicides is linked to a similar phenomenon. Though it is important to ensure a safe Internet for students, it is also important to protect instructors. A lifetime of harsh terms online can have serious effects on anyone, let alone those whom suffer from depression, bipolar disorder and other mental conditions.

Though some of the language online is focused on competency (a much more legitimate gripe), sexuality, appearance and race are often mentioned. Such was the case with University of Connecticut student Anya Bargh. She was charged with second degree harassment and breach of peace for anti-Gay, anti-Semitic and anti-African American messages. Her messages went as far as wanting to see the butchering of a professor. Her reasons for these transgressions? Grades. Luckily, Bargh’s name was attached to the messages, not always the case on the Internet.

Though Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and many more are riddled with instructor insults, websites like Rate my Professor and Rate my Teacher, though good intentioned, can serve as yet another anonymous method for leaving inappropriate comments. However, on these websites it is much easier for an employer to find the results. Additionally, though these websites have methods to report ratings, the ‘Hottness’ meter on Rate my Professor only serves to delegitimize the website, creating an environment of unprofessionalism and hindering its sister website.

To combat this issue, I say schools, universities, and websites (especially Reddit) do away with anonymity. I say if you want to comment you better log in with your Linkedin profile. That way if you want to say something about your instructor you have to keep the criticisms legitimate and professional, because potential employers and even the police are watching.

This is an opinion piece. The comments above are that of Shawn Wasserman and may or may not agree with others from ENGINEERING.com.

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