Learning Through Social Networking Sites: The Critical Role of the Teacher

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  • 1. Learning through social networking sites the critical role of the teacher Noelene Callaghana * and Matt Bowerb a NSW Department of Education, Glenwood, Australia; b Macquarie University, Ryde, Australia (Received 6 October 2011; nal version received 7 December 2011) This comparative case study examined factors affecting behaviour and learning in social networking sites (SNS). The behaviour and learning of two classes completing identical SNS based modules of work was observed and compared. All student contributions to the SNS were analysed, with the cognitive process dimension of the Revised Blooms Taxonomy used to measure the type of think- ing that students demonstrated. Key ndings include the trade off between social and learning contributions, the potential of SNSs to enhance motivation and dig- ital literacy development, and the critical role of the teaching in inuencing the behaviour and learning that transpired. Effective teacher implementation in the SNS was associated with positive teacherstudent relationships, establishing a learning rather than social attitude towards the SNS, and the online presence that the teacher exerted. Keywords: social networking sites; SNS; e-learning; technology; Web 2.0; online spaces; Australian secondary schools; engagement; Ning Introduction Social networking sites (SNSs) are no longer dened as simply a communicational tool that allows one to make new friends, renew or maintain old acquaintances and establish romantic relationships (Beckenham, 2008, p. 2). SNSs are sophisticated web-based services that allow individuals to construct a prole, form social networks, and view and traverse information with others (Boyd & Ellison, 2007). Hence, SNSs are in fact a very complex place where individuals are required to utilize a number of IT and social skills to form a virtual representation of themselves and interact effec- tively with others. They can be used by a large range of age groups (over the age of 13 years), and can productively connect a diverse group of students whilst creating multiliteracies and developing cognitive capabilities (Healy, 2007). Some research has found that SNSs are the most popular form of communica- tion amongst teenagers with 95% of SNS users being teenagers aged between 16 and 19 years (Ellison, 2008, p. 81). Thus there is a possibility to draw upon the popularity of SNSs to engage school students and utilising the online skills that students already possess. *Corresponding author. Email: noelene.callaghan1@det.nsw.edu.au Educational Media International Vol. 49, No. 1, March 2012, 117 ISSN 0952-3987 print/ISSN 1469-5790 online 2012 International Council for Educational Media http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09523987.2012.662621 http://www.tandfonline.com
  • 2. In an educational context, SNSs may bring both opportunities and limitations to the classroom. SNSs create new opportunity for self-directed learning, supporting all levels of cognitive abilities, peer-based learning and the development of new media literacy, yet the role of the teacher in helping students to accomplish these objectives is a somewhat open question. Background literature Boyd and Ellison (2007) emphasise that SNSs are part of a larger suite of Internet technologies that collectively fall under the category of Web 2.0 tools, along with blogs and wikis. In their normal context, affordances associated with SNSs include the ability to facilitate: Connectivity and social rapport. Collaborative information discovery and sharing. Content creation. Knowledge and information aggregation. Content modication (Burden & Atkinson, 2008). Overall, Web 2.0 tools encompass a variety of meanings that include an increased emphasis on user generated content, data and content sharing and collaborative effort (Albion, 2008a). In SNSs this is achieved by their capabilities to create online groups that enable users to Chat in addition to search for and critique information as well as post and withdraw data, audio and video les (Sale & Sinis, 2008). Currently Facebook is the worlds most used social networking site with over 750 million global users (Alexa, 2011; Facebook, 2011). It is reported that female teenagers access and use SNSs more frequently than do male teenagers (Ellison, 2008). Ellison (2008) also found that SNS users aged between 18- and 24-years-old spend an estimated 610 hours a week online (p. 91). More recently, it was reported that of Australian Facebook users (of all ages), one of every ve minutes is spent on SNSs (comStore, 2011). Thus, it can be speculated that teenagers may spend more time online than completing homework or study. Many researchers attempt to elucidate why todays students ock to these sites. Some, such as Boyd (2008a), suggest that it provides teenagers with opportunities to create a desired prole of themselves that perhaps is not normally associated with them in person. Many others such as DeSchryver et al. (2008a), Shaheen (2008) and Vie (2008) have found that SNSs provide teenagers a sense of worth. This implies that teenagers can create a personal prole that may not best represent them in real life, but presents them as a unique and cool individual online and therefore, others should befriend them. It is noted that some teenagers who are unpopular at school and as a result possess very low self-esteem are thriving online due to their better pre- sented prole and coolness online (Boyd, 2008a, p. 129). Additionally, SNSs pro- vide teenagers with a voice that is heard by others as well as providing them with the opportunity to be innovative, where in traditional cases this may be difcult for a teenager to do (Ellison, 2006). Additionally, Boyd (2008b) states that many teenag- ers have turned to these tools to simply replace traditional ways of keeping a journal or telephoning a friend. This is perhaps due to teenagers thriving on their immediate access to the world and such behaviour is indicative of their cultures fundamental right to the free ow of information and expression of opinions (Leung, 2003). 2 N. Callaghan and M. Bower
  • 3. International reports such as The Horizon Project have paid particular attention to how SNSs have enhanced student engagement in the classroom through their relevance to teaching, learning, and creative inquiry (Johnson, Smith, Willis, Levine, & Haywood, 2011, p. 11). Findings from McLoughlin and Lee (2008), Bec- kenham (2008) and Ito et al. (2008) show strong student engagement occurring through the use of SNSs in the classroom. Given that SNSs are the most popular form of communication amongst teenag- ers (Ellison, 2008) there is an opportunity to transfer motivation and associated information and communication literacies into an educational context. Overall, SNSs permits students to participate in numerous activities. For example, Flickr and YouTube facilitate the sharing of photos and videos with both real world and virtual friends, whereas Facebook, MySpace and Friendster allow users to utilise a range of multimedia elements (McLoughlin & Lee, 2007, p. 665). PBworks and Ning have been identied as having great potential for promoting online and ofine collaboration and for disseminating research and resources (Knobel & Lankshear, 2009). Thus, SNSs may contribute to an improvement in literacy and numeracy as well as preparing them as citizens in a global world (Murray, 2008) and may enable self-regulated learning (Vie, 2008) by exposing them to deeper learning and developing higher cognitive skills (Lynch, Debuse, Lawley, & Roy, 2009). Unfortunately, limitations surrounding the SNS expertise of teachers, perhaps due to the Digital Divide as conceptualised by Oblinger and Oblinger (2005) and the potential abuse of online spaces (Boyd, 2008b) may inhibit successful use of the tool. The Ning Network, which has been the focus of benchmark studies for Arnold and Paulus (2010), Barbour and Plough (2009) and for the Horizon Project, 2011 (Johnson, Smith, Willis, Levine, & Haywood, 2011), is used in this study to examine how SNSs may enhance the learning processes in a high school teaching and learning environment. The study investigated if SNSs can be used to pedagogi- cally enhance learning of curriculum. An emerging nding from the study was the role of the teacher in contributing to the quality of the student learning experience. Methodology A total of 48 Year 10 (Stage 5) commerce students from a school in the western region of Sydney participated in the research study (24 students in each of the two classes). In 2011, the school had 870 students enrolled, of whom 122 students were in Year 10. Of these Year 10 students, 84% had a language background other than English (LBOTE) and the vast majority were of European background. Out of 48 participants, four students were recognised as having learning difculties. All stu- dents in this year group had their own laptop which was used in all ve 60 minute periods daily. The two classes that participated in this study were not graded or streamed. Two Ning Plus versions of the Ning Network were used to conduct this research. The Ning SNS enabled all registered students to work in secure environ- ment only accessible by account holders. Identical SNS tools and lesson material specic to Stage 5 commerce: Employment issues was created on each classs Ning Network (see Figure 1, below). The Ning Network contained all of the detailed class work instructions and all of the tools that students were required to use. The tools used in the rst four lessons included, but were not limited to chat, forum discussions (13 in tot