Social Networking is the process of connecting individuals who share some kinds of commonalities. This is not a new phenomenon, social networking is a fundamental part of the human experience. Online social networking first emerged in 1997, with the launch of sixdegrees.com  and has slowly advanced its way into the populace  (p.3, Boyd & Ellison, 2007). Thus it is a relatively new circumstance, with a small field of research from which to draw conclusions. The application of Social Networking in Education is even more recent and consequently the research field is in relative infancy. Successful implementation of SN in educational environments requires constant academic analysis to ensure that the research used for policy decisions is up to date and specific in its focus. Focus areas should include risk mitigation, parental and administrative inclusion, academic achievement, and teacher training that links learning with pedagogical practice.  These were discussed in the previous ELPCG1 Research Journal. This critique collates the findings drawn from that journal.

Research showed that over 90% of Victorian students access some form of Social Networking on a daily basis (pp. 2-4, de Zwart et al., 2011). This implies some degree of parental approval or acquiescence. Future research might target this apparent gap in risk mitigation. Parents allow Social Networking in the home but are hesitant about its implementation in an educational context. Nor do they engage in educated dialogue with their children about the risks of online communities (pp. 2-4, de Zwart et al.,2011).  Research found that parents and teachers/school administrators are overly concerned with sexual predatory risks and cyber bullying (p.1, de Zwart et al.,2011). These concerns are also perpetuated by media and political bodies. Despite these concerns, the high percentage of teen use demonstrates that as a society, social networking amongst teens is condoned or at least tolerated. Why then, is it not widely implemented as a part of the school curriculum? Specific programmes could work to negate the aforementioned risks, and also address legality issues such as copyright infringements, privacy issues, defamation and breaches of confidence (p. 3, de Zwart et al., 2011).  Indeed, research found that these types of breaches were more common than either cyber bullying or issues of a sexual nature. The legal risks for teachers and schools should also be identified and programmes  implemented for risk reduction/mitigation, including legal protection tailored for teachers if the need arises.

A focus area that requires further research, is the effects on student learning after introducing Social Networking into the school curriculum. Quantifiable results detailing either improvements or deterioration in academic achievement might help advance the discussion to the policy level, with the current focus on test scores and school rankings. Alternatively, if the aim is to increase student engagement, it would be pertinent to study whether Social Networking in the classroom relegates it to the status of the common text-book, inducing yawns and groans where one might expect engagement and enthusiasm. After all, the research refers to the digital generation, for whom such resources are not technologically advanced but rather, a part of their daily fabric. Therefore more studies should direct analysis on future technologies and how to best utilise them for educational purposes. Currently, the technology advances the research, which is conducted retrospectively. For instance, the current discussions relating to Web 2.0 being replaced by cloud computing could  be considered in research projects analysing the use of ICT in education. How will it be implemented? How will  schools migrate successfully between the two technologies and at what economic cost? It is better to direct the technological research rather than technology retroactively directing the research.

Teacher training in Web 2.0 technologies demands immediate and extensive attention. Research by de Zwart et al. (2011)  highlighted the lack of awareness amongst parents and teachers concerning the legalities of online participation. Educating teachers in effective uses of Social Networking is important to ensure safe passage for students in the virtual world. Currently, online networking appears sporadically in schools and it appears to depend on the teacher’s personal knowledge, rather than as a by-product of professional training. Scaffolding of student learning is a basic tenet of education, why then are teachers not given scaffolded training to implement specific kinds of Web 2.0 such as Social Networking?  The research might better direct participants as to how to implement online networking and education. Students and staff at the University of Leicester were given mobile devices and asked to use Twitter by researchers (Badge et al, 2011). Whilst this provided valuable data on how Twitter use unfolded, future studies could achieve two aims, training for specific educational purposes and then measuring the effects of that use on either academic achievement, digital literacy, student engagement or the acquisition of life skills. de Zwart et al (p. 3, 2011)  highlight the need for schools to produce “effective digital citizens” and to implement “specifically tailored programs” but to achieve this end, teachers require specific training. This training could extend to parents and school administrations although such programmes introduce fiscal concerns that likely prove difficult to countenance. However, scientific data can only enhance the discussions of whether or not to implement technologies in a curriculum, especially if further funding and programmes are required.

Risk aversion is one of the main reasons for school and parent reticence at implementing formal programmes of Social Networking. However, blanket avoidance is not an acceptable analytic response to the many benefits of such technologies in schools. Research highlighted many benefits such as improved digital literacy, creativity, etiquette and overcoming geographical isolation (Collin et al., 2010). Perhaps most significantly, the research proves that pedagogical applications are still very relevant within the medium. Social Networking facilitates an online collaborative classroom that draws upon existing learning theories such as Piaget, Vygotsky and Social Constructivism, emergent learning; and learner centric methods such as enquiry based and problem solving learning. The potential to achieve hidden curriculum objectives such as improving student safety by modelling appropriate online behaviour is also very valuable. Williams et al. (pp. 50-51, 2011) discussed online emergent learning and the need for teachers to guide the construction of knowledge in order to achieve a qualitative learning environment. This demonstrated that pedagogy is integral to a learning environment, whether virtual or physical.  These worlds are merging for students; clear distinctions are no longer the norm. (Pp.17-18, Collins et al., 2010). Pedagogy and technological familiarity will guide teachers to implement effective programmes that link theory and practice, drawn from scientific research.

Social Networking for educational purposes extends learning potential beyond the borders of classroom walls and school boundaries. As with all things in life, there are benefits and risks. Therefore, its inclusion in an educational context requires rigourous study to ensure safety for all participants, including teachers. This critique concludes that a wider scope of research, with education for teachers that keeps pace with new technologies and facilitates a suitable flow of information to parents and administrators, should combine to form a comprehensive framework that insures formal, analysed implementation. This framework would then combine practice with pedagogy to ensure the highest quality of teaching and learning.

Resources

Badge, J., Johnson, S., Moseley, A. &  Cann, A.Observing Emerging Student Networks on a Microblogging Service (2011). MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching Vol. 7, No. 1, March 2011.

Boyd, D. Streams of Content, Limited Attention : The Flow of Information Throughout Social Media, (2010). EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 45, no. 5 (September/October 2010): 26–36.  http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Review/EDUCAUSEReviewMagazineVolume45/StreamsofContentLimitedAttenti/213923

Boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11. http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol13/issue1/boyd.ellison.html

Collin, Dr. P.,  University of Western Sydney,  Rahilly, K., Inspire Foundation, Richardson, Dr. I., Murdoch University, Third, Dr. A., University of Western Sydney. The Benefits of Social Networking Services. (2010). Literature Review, ISBN: 978-0-9871179-1-5.

de Zwart, M., Lindsay, D., Henderson, M., Phillips, M., Teenagers, Legal Risks and Social Networking Sites, (2011).  Monash University, Faculty of Education Building 6 Monash University Victoria 3800 Australia.

Williams, R., Karousou, R., & Mackness, J. Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0. (2011), International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, Vol. 12.3, March 2011.

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