Creating & Connecting//Research and Guidelines on Online Social - and Educational - Networking
This study, commissioned by the United States (US) National School Boards of Association, discusses student social networking through technology including: the positives of student social networking and the gaps between student networking and the school policies surrounding it; the educational expectations and interests of adults, including parents, teachers, and school boards; and guidance for school board members on social networking policies. The recommendations for further consideration of school policies take into account that 96% of internet users in the age range studied reported ever having used a social networking technology (such as chatting, text messaging, blogging, and visiting online communities), and also reported that education is one of the most common topics of virtual conversation.
The research for this document was comprised of three surveys: an online survey of 9- to 17-year-old students; an online survey of parents; and telephone interviews with 250 school district leaders who make decisions on internet policy. Nine- to 17-year-olds report spending almost as much time using social networking services and websites as they spend watching television. Among teens, that amounts to approximately 9 hours a week on social networking activities, compared to approximately 10 hours a week watching TV. Eighty-one percent say they have visited a social networking website within the past three months and 71% say they use social networking tools at least weekly. Of this group 50% report that they chat specifically about schoolwork and 59% say they talk about any education-related topics, including: college or college planning; learning outside of school; news; careers or jobs; politics, ideas, religion or morals; and schoolwork, school districts, for the most part, have rules against social networking during the school day.
The study suggests that districts may want to reconsider their policies and explore ways in which they could use social networking for educational purposes. The document reviews research statistics on positive activities including: posting messages; sharing music; sharing photos; blogging; creating content; and site-building. The survey reports that 1 in 5 students break rules set for internet safety. These students, termed "nonconformists", are reported to have a high skill set, including communication, creativity, collaboration and leadership skills, and technology proficiency. Yet, they are significantly more likely than other students to have lower grades. The recommendation of the document is that schools need to find ways to engage nonconformists in more creative activities for academic learning.
While the document shows that almost all teachers require some internet use for homework, including the use of online educational services, schools have safety concerns about networking on the internet. As indicated here, less cyberstalking and other unwelcome virtual student/adult encounters are now being reported than were previously assumed to be occurring. Seven percent of students and 5% of parents report cyberbullying, and .08 percent of all students say they’ve actually met someone in person from an online encounter without their parents’ permission. Parents' complaints, for the most part, focus on negative attributions of computer use that are similar to use of other media - inappropriate language and inappropriate pictures. However, schools are likely to prevent the popular online connectivity.
Despite a negative opinion of social networking indicated by restrictive school policies, educators are curious about its educational potential, including expectations of a potentially positive role in student expression, creativity, and local and global relationships. Parents and school officials are reportedly looking for proof of the educational value of networking.
The document concludes with recommendations for school board members because, as stated here, officials need to maintain their parents' and communities' trust through a thoughtful approach to social networking of students and because networking is increasingly used in business and higher education. Thus, schools, whose responsibility it is to prepare students to transition to adult life with the skills they need to succeed in both arenas, may need to reckon with it. Recommendations include the following:
* Explore social networking sites.
* Consider using social networking for staff communications and professional development.
* Find ways to harness the educational value of social networking.
* Ensure equitable access.
* Pay attention to the nonconformists.
* Re-examine social networking policies.
* Encourage social networking companies to increase educational value.
NSBA website accessed on January 12 2009.