S.B. Linek

ZBW Leibniz Information Centre for Economics (GERMANY)
Social media are pervasive and private social networks like Facebook have become also part of the university life. Besides the ongoing discussion of the academic potential of Facebook, it is an open question if the use of Facebook influences the student/lecturer relation that is an important factor in education. Additionally, former findings on gender-related differences in communication and social networking suggest that the perception of the academic hierarchy between students and lecturers might be different for males versus females.

Beyond this background I investigated if and how the subjective view of the hierarchy between students and lecturers is associated with the academic status (student versus lecturer) and gender. Additionally, I explored the influence of Facebook contacts between students and their lecturers (herein after denoted as “SL-contacts”).

The research question was addressed by a 2x2x2 between-design with three independent variables, namely academic status (students vs. lecturer), gender (male vs. female), and own SL-contacts (with vs. without). Dependent variable was the subjective view of the hierarchy between students and their lecturers, i.e., if the participants see the student/lecturer relation as a dependent hierarchical relationship (hierarchical view) or as an equal partnership (egalitarian view). Furthermore, social desirability was included as control variable. The variables were measured as part of an online survey. The data base for this study comprised 1872 valid interviews (with 1714 students and 158 lecturers).

The results of a 2x2x2 ANCOVA showed a significant effect for the academic status, i.e., students estimated the student/lecturer relationship as more hierarchical than lecturers. Additionally, there was a significant effect for gender, i.e., males rated the student/lecturer relationship more hierarchical than females. Besides these two main effects, there were two non-significant interactions: first, between gender and academic status and second, between gender and SL-contacts. In relation to these interactions, additional detailed analyses showed that the significant gender effect could be verified only for the group of lecturers with SL-contacts: Female lecturers with SL-contacts perceived the relation between students and lecturers less hierarchical and more egalitarian compared to male lecturers with SL-contacts. For the groups of lecturers without SL-contacts, students with, and students without SL-contacts there were no significant gender-differences.

Overall, the reported findings have several implications: The students’ more pronounced hierarchical view of the student/lecturer relation can be explained by a stronger dependency of the students’ career on lecturers than vice versa. The gender effect, i.e., the more pronounced egalitarian view of females is in line with prior research. However, this gender effect holds true only for female lecturers with SL-contacts. Thus, female lecturers who are connected with their students on Facebook seem to be a special group that has a less traditional but more collaborative and egalitarian view of the student/lecturer relation. This suggests also gender-related differences in the lecturers’ use of private social networks like Facebook. Further studies should investigate if and how this is reflected in the teaching style and might influence learning processes.