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Jonathan Erickson

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Educational Benefits of Social Networking? You're Kidding, Right?

June 22, 2008

Here's how Facebook can gut MySpace (and no, I don't mean by letting Rupert Murdock -- who paid $580 million for MySpace a scant three years ago -- run amuck).

The way for Facebook to win is by extolling the "educational benefits" that MySpace offers. From what I've seen, nothing turns off adolescents more than the educational benefits of anything. Educational TV? You're kidding, right? Educational software? Please.

So what do you think? Is there an educational benefit to social networks like Facebook and MySpace? Well, researchers at the University of Minnesota seem to think so. In a recently released study, they found that, of the students observed, 94 percent used the Internet, 82 percent go online at home, and 77 percent had a profile on a social networking site. When queried about what they learn from using social networking sites, technology skills was as the top, followed by creativity, being open to new or diverse views, and communication skills.

"What we found was that students using social networking sites are actually practicing the kinds of 21st century skills we want them to develop to be successful today," said Christine Greenhow, a learning technologies researcher in the university's College of Education and Human Development and principal investigator of the study. "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."

Greenhow's team collected data over a six month period from students 16 to 18 of age in 13 urban high schools. Beyond the surveyed students, a follow-up, randomly selected subset were asked questions about their Internet activity as they navigated MySpace, an online forum that provides users with e-mail, web communities, and audio/video capabilities.

Researchers also found that few students were actually aware of the academic and professional networking opportunities that the Web sites provide.

This video discusses the study and provides an interview with the lead researcher.

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