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June 20, 2008

New Research Reveals Educational Benefits of Social Networking Web Sites

The University of Minnesota has released the results of a study conducted on the Internet activity of students between the ages of 16 and 18.

The study discovered that the scope of social networking Web sites like MySpace (News - Alert) and Facebook go beyond offering a forum for social and professional networking to also provide educational benefits to students.

Technology and communication skills, creativity, and being open to new and diverse views were top areas of learning revealed by the study. The research was based on six months of data on students in the age group of 16 to 18 from thirteen urban high schools in the Midwest, along with additional follow-up of randomly selected subsets.

From the observed group of students, 94 percent used the Internet, 82 percent went online at home and 77 percent had a profile on a social-networking Web site.

"Students are developing a positive attitude towards using technology systems, editing and customizing content and thinking about online design and layout. They're also sharing creative original work like poetry and film and practicing safe and responsible use of information and technology. The Web sites offer tremendous educational potential," said Christine Greenhow, a learning technologies researcher in the University's College of Education and Human Development, and principal investigator of the study.
Previous research from Pew (News - Alert) in 2005 suggests that low-income students are technologically impoverished and that Internet usage of students from families earning $30,000 or below was limited to 73 percent, which is 21 percentage points below what the new research from the University of Minnesota shows.

The new research indicates that low-income students are in many ways just as technologically proficient as their peers. The students participating in the study were from families whose incomes were at or below $25,000. These students were participating in an after-school program, Admission Possible that aims at improving college access for low-income youth.

According to Greenhow, the study also provides educators an opportunity to support learning on these Web sites. "Now that we know what skills students are learning and what experiences they're being exposed to, we can help foster and extend those skills," she said.

"As educators, we always want to know where our students are coming from and what they're interested in so we can build on that in our teaching. By understanding how students may be positively using these networking technologies in their daily lives and where the as yet unrecognized educational opportunities are, we can help make schools even more relevant, connected and meaningful to kids."

Greenhow also pointed out that making students aware about academic and professional networking opportunities of these Web sites and helping them on their way to becoming good digital citizens and leaders online are a couple of ways for educators can use the opportunity provided by these Web sites.
Vinti Vaid is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Vinti’s articles, please visit her columnist page.
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