Recently I’ve heard a few comments and queries about the role of social networking in education, as you would expect there are a wide range of opinions from a resounding “yes” to “no, it’s a waste of time”.
It seems to me that there is really not a lot of concrete evidence out there to say one way or another that sites like Facebook and Myspace have a place in education. I did find some research undertaken by Christine Greenhow from the University of Minnesota which does demonstrate some benefits of social networking.
They have found that social networking fosters communication and creativity and allows students to express their opinions, emotions and thoughts.
They also found that where students may get some training in class on a subject such as video creation or creative writing if the student is interested and inspired by the subject they may go on learning in their own time. Social networks allow students to display their creations and get feedback and reviews from their peers.
Sir Ken Robinson said at a recent TED conference “Creativity is as important as literacy” and that “We are educating people out of their creative capacities”. With that in mind don’t you think Social networking is a great way to encourage creativity as well as literacy?
Blogging and communication tools can be used for reflection as well as interaction, there is evidence that these tools improve literacy and can help develop a social conscience. A lot of organisations are becoming increasingly interested in e-portfolios but there are currently many definitions of what an e-portfolio is. Some e-portfolios encourage reflection and the keeping of a diary, some allow work and evidence to be uploaded and some allow peer review. As far as I can see the IT and social skills required for interacting with an e-portfolio are already being developed, social networking sites are working as a training ground without anyone realising it!
We do need to be careful though, I recently came across a quote which I’ll have to paraphrase as unfortunately I can’t find the original source: The best way for a social network (such as Facebook) to kill off a rival would be to say that the rival is educational.
Expecting that we can shoehorn education into students’ existing social networks is probably the wrong idea. Trying to create copies of social networks in education and expecting students to use them like Facebook may also be a mistake. Beware of trying to be too cool and creating a Creepy Treehouse*
Obviously Social networks have downsides too, most students realise that they can be a distraction from their studies, one thing that we should perhaps think about rather than banning and blocking sites is how to encourage their use as an effective study break.
The other main hazards are breaches of privacy, security and digital identity; however the online world isn’t going to go away and can be hazardous to everyone no matter what age they are or what experience they have. Learning to be safe online is an essential life skill these days, effective teaching about these dangers should form a core part of education.
Interestingly whilst I’ve been writing this article I’ve had several related tweets on Twitter pointing to some relevant articles, I’ll leave you with some links to follow should you want to explore this subject more.
Christine Greenhow from the University of Minnesota:
* A creepy treehouse is a place built by scheming adults to lure in kids. Kids tend to sense there’s something creepy about that treehouse and avoid it. Hence, a new definition: “Any institutionally-created, operated, or controlled environment in which participants are lured in either by mimicking pre-existing open or naturally formed environments, or by force, through a system of punishments or rewards.”