Utilizing Online Social Networking in Education

There is still an ongoing debate on the direct benefits of making the use of social networking in education. Unfortunately for these online social networking sites, or SNS, their early reputation has long preceded their potentials. Facebook, Friendster and MySpace are just some examples of such sites which have created a stigma around themselves that technology per se does not deserve.

But with the lines blurring, it is interesting to know that a change is taking place, and it relates to what could be the productive role of online social networking in the lives of students.

Issue of safety and influence

Majority of the contents of online SNS are user generated. They are open to anyone who wishes to become a member. Because some users often post detailed and specific personal details (including addresses and phone numbers), compromising and unsuitable pictures, statements or other information, SNS are considered as a playground for online predators.

Students are getting in trouble with their school administrators for posting self incriminating and unacceptable pictures or information, which violate imposed school policies or code of conduct. School administrators, however, do not monitor the activities of their students in online social networking activities; but if their students’ online accounts that violate school policies are reported to them or are brought to their attention, then they may investigate the matter further.

Collaboration rather than conflict

The challenge in utilizing the potentials of SNS in the lives of students lies in how to integrate such sites with academic practice. Initially, as expected, academic institutions had refused to accept the influence of social networking activities in the lives of their students. However, it is without a doubt that despite of the downsides, the internet is a powerful educational tool – a virtual school grounds where students can meet and chat, and bring learning to them without having to leave their homes.

Recently, the same school institutions had to see these SNS with a fresh eye. This technological socialization among students may just be a potentially effective partner in the education system. There should be an alliance, rather than a collision, between the online activities of students and academic goals. The challenge here is how to harness the promise of SNS and how to integrate it effectively with the traditional academic methods.

Of course it is not generally possible to directly incorporate SNS directly into the classrooms; such are tools primarily for socializing. But these tools have grown to a level so potentially useful among students that educators should not ignore its value. With optimism, this goal may be realized through the following:

* Paying attention and looking into social networking sites - School administrators must not express disproval of networking activities utterly without really understanding how it works. Exploring these sites will reveal what makes it popular among their students.

* Employing the educational worth of social networking activities - Educators may deliberately consider ways of extending classroom activities onto the internet. Online communities work by providing ways through which users interact. Deliberately thinking of projects and assignments to be executed by the students through SNS may make the most out of it.

Effectively diverting the influence of SNS to a more positive side will strengthen role of online technology to the students. The role of social networking in education may just be an integral part of the learning process of the students, and not merely a distraction.

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Richard La Compte
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