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Online social networks hold promise for learning
Creating content and connecting with their peers online is nearly ubiquitous for students ages 9 to 17 who have internet access, a new survey reveals: Only one in 20 teens and "tweens" surveyed said they have not used social-networking technologies such as chatting, text-messaging, blogging, or visiting online communities such as Facebook, MySpace, and Webkinz.
What’s more, students report that one of the most common topics of conversation on the social-networking scene is education–suggesting that schools have a huge, but largely untapped, opportunity to harness these technologies in support of student learning.
Released Aug. 14 by the National School Boards Association (NSBA) and Grunwald Associates LLC, the survey shows that 96 percent of students with online access use social-networking technologies. Nearly 60 percent of these students report discussing education-related topics online, such as college or college planning, learning outside of school, and careers. And half of online students say they talk specifically about schoolwork.
"There is no doubt that these online teen hangouts are having a huge influence on how kids today are creatively thinking and behaving," said Anne L. Bryant, NSBA’s executive director. "The challenge for school boards and educators is that they have to keep pace with how students are using these tools in positive ways and consider how they might incorporate this technology into the school setting."
Students report they are engaging in highly creative activities on social-networking web sites, including writing, art, and contributing to collaborative online projects–whether these activities are related to schoolwork, or not. Nearly half of students surveyed say they have uploaded pictures they have made or photos they have taken, and 22 percent say they have uploaded video they have created.
Students also say they are spending nearly as much time using social-networking services and web sites as they spend watching television. Among teens who use social-networking sites, that amounts to about nine hours a week online, compared with 10 hours a week watching TV.
Yet, most K-12 school systems have stringent rules against nearly all forms of online social networking during the school day, according to the survey–even though students and parents report few problem behaviors online.
More than eight in 10 districts have rules against online chatting and instant messaging in school, the survey suggests, and more than six in 10 have rules against participating in blogs. Sixty percent also prohibit students from sending and receiving eMail while in school, and 52 percent ban the use of social-networking sites on campus.
In light of the survey’s findings, school leaders should consider reexamining their policies and explore ways they could use social networking for educational purposes, its authors say.
"Schools that incorporate social-networking tools in education can help engage kids and move them toward the center of the learning process," said Peter Grunwald of Grunwald Associates.
Although most schools have rules against social-networking activities during school hours, some officially sanctioned use does occur in schools, the survey finds. Nearly 70 percent of districts report having student web site programs, and nearly half say their schools take part in online collaborative projects with other schools. More than a third say their schools or students have blogs, either officially or in the context of instruction.
The report, titled "Creating & Connecting: Research and Guidelines on Online Social and Educational Networking," is based on three surveys: an online survey of nearly 1,300 9- to 17-year-olds, an online survey of more than 1,000 parents, and telephone interviews with 250 school district leaders who make decisions on internet policy. The study was carried out with support from Microsoft, News Corp. (which owns MySpace), and Verizon.