Social networking sites for learning

Young people today live in a media saturated world. They have unprecedented access to an array of media and devices and can spend on average a quarter of their day interacting with various technologies (Roberts and Foehr, 2005; Vie, 2008). A large part of this interaction with technology is through social networking sites such as Myspace and Facebook. Due to the popularity of this type of communication, it has been noted that the way people traditionally communicate has changed (Vie, 2008). In an educational context, this has impacted traditional forms of literacy which, in turn, has impacted on how and what curricula are taught in the classroom. Without a doubt, the phenomenon of social networking is widespread among young people today and is something educators need to understand and embrace in order to utilise it as a teaching tool and to relate to today’s students.

‘Generation M’ is a label given to young people born between the early 1980s and late 1990s. They have grown up with technology and are fascinated and comfortable with using it. On average they spend a quarter of their day interacting with numerous types of media on various devices. Despite different students’ socio-economic status, most have access to the internet and other technologies (Vie, 2008). Due to students’ high level of participation in online social networking sites, social media is a phenomenon that needs to be addressed in education.

Despite the obvious need for educators to embrace and engage in social networking, there are some issues that may prevent this. The first issue is the ‘digital divide’, which is a term used to describe the gap in technological understanding and skill between teachers and students (Vie, 2008). This gap can result in students being more adept than their teachers in using modern technologies, which leads to a potential fear or lack of confidence in teacher use. To overcome the digital divide, teachers need to catch up with Generation M and engage more with modern technologies. In addition to seeking instruction on how to use different technologies, actively engaging will enable teachers to understand how to use them and develop ways of incorporating them into their curricula.

In relation to social networking sites specifically, another barrier preventing educators from participating is the issue of privacy and surveillance. In a survey conducted by Stephanie Vie in 2006 (Vie, 2008) she found that the main reasons for teachers’ nonparticipation in social networking sites were privacy and surveillance, teacher identity and time. In online convergent spaces, of which Facebook is an example, the traditional hierarchy of the classroom is inverted. It enables students to survey and scrutinize their teachers which can be uncomfortable and confronting for some. Although online surveillance is associated with privacy invasion, Albrechtlund (2008) suggests that online social networking can be empowering. This empowerment comes from people voluntarily engaging with others and constructing identity. By voluntarily engaging it changes the role of the user from passive to active taking away the fear of being ‘under surveillance’.

Due to the high level of participation of Generation M in online social media, it is important for educators to integrate it into instruction. This can be done by incorporating aspects of social media into both pedagogy and content.

Social media allows students to interact with each other and share content in an accessible way. Teachers can take advantage of social media in the classroom by using it for instructional purposes. For example, teachers can use social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook to facilitate discussion or have students interact with a digital stimulus. This will not only engage students more in learning but has the potential to enhance and continue instruction beyond the four walls of a traditional classroom.

In terms of content, a key area in which social media can be used in education is literacy. The traditional form of composition in the classroom is the essay. However, with the growth of digital technology this form is becoming irrelevant to a lot of young people. Today, social media enables us to be exposed to, and connect with, multiple forms of media such as videos, photographs, and online dialogue. On social networking sites, students are able to practise writing their own content, while appropriating and remixing others’ content (Vie, 2008). The creation of an online profile requires a complex process of self-representation, which can be used as a teaching tool in the classroom.

In addition to practising writing skills, teachers can also use social media to raise important literary issues. Even though Generation M are competent in using various technologies, they may not be able to think critically about technology literacy issues. As Selfe & Hawisher (2004 as cited in Vie, 2008) state, technological literacy “connects social practices, people, technology, values, and literate activity, which, in turn, are embedded in a larger cultural ecology”. Issues such as authorship and ownership, rights to user-generated content, and the powerful use of marketing on social networking sites are all important issues that can be raised in the classroom with regard to social media.

Social networking sites have great potential for use in today’s classrooms. It can inform pedagogy, and be used to teach key ideas about technological literacy. However, teachers need to be participating alongside students in order to be fully aware of the possibilities social media can offer. This means bridging the digital divide by being educated on how to use modern technologies, and engaging with social networking sites. Although there are legitimate reasons for teachers to be hesitant in doing this, it is crucial for curricula to be relevant to students today. This means fully engaging in the world of social media, and applying the opportunities it provides to the classroom.


Albrechtslund, A. (2008). Online social networking as participatory surveillance. First Monday, Volume 13, Number 3 – 3 March 2008. Retrieved 26 March 2013, from

Roberts, D.F. & Foehr, U.J. (2005). Generation M: Media in the lives of 8-18 year-olds. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved 26 March 2013, from <;.

Vie, S. (2008).  Digital Divide 2.0: “Generation M” and online social networking sites in the composition classroom. Computers and Composition. 25, 9-23.



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9 responses to “Social networking sites for learning

  1. Pingback: Learning Boost is born! | Learning Boost

  2. Yes, I agree. You make so many good points that I don’t know where to start.
    As an ex-teacher, and now a mature-age student, newly returned to university study, the technology has been the biggest hurdle for me to overcome. I’m not bad with technology, but what I don’t do is social media. I’m an introvert and very private person. The idea of broadcasting personal information to the world in an anathema to me.
    Also, I have little patience for learning new interfaces; I just like to get in and do what I have to do. As Vaughan (2007) suggests, difficulties with technologies is one of four main challenges faced by higher education students working in blended learning environments.
    I’ve shared my experience returning to university in my April blog.


    Vaughan, N. (2007). Perspectives on Blended Learning in Higher Education. International Journal on E-Learning, 6(1), 81-94

  3. Social Media has definitely changed our world, I remember when I was younger being excited about being ICQ and chatting to friends over telephone modem internet. A few years on we have a whole new Generation M to deal with… although I thought we were Gen Ys… but I’m digressing.
    I have found it hard keeping up with all the acronyms, LOL, TTYL, and what8 new lingo being invented everyday, so I can just imagine how much harder it would be for teachers not in Gen Y/M.

    McLuhan 1964 conveyed in his book that writings in online social media are writing as they were speaking. So with the new “text” language, is it destroying the English language (Baron 2009) (or any language for that matter), my Primary School teacher friend thinks so. She insists on correct spelling and grammar in her text messages, but can you imagine trying to fit everything in 160 characters on Twitter?

    A recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project confirms that middle school and high school students understand what kind of language is appropriate in what context (Lenhart, Smith, & Macgill, 2008). What’s more, scholars of new media language, such as David Crystal and Beverly Plester, remind us that the new technologies encourage creativity, which can spill over into school writing (Crystal, 2008; Plester, Wood, & Bell, 2008).

    So maybe it is time for teachers to jump on the bandwagon of social media and not to fear it.

    McLuhan, M, 1964, Understanding Media, 1996 Reprint, UK, Routledge Classics
    Thurlow, C, Lengel, L, Tomic A, 2004 Computer Mediated Communication, Social Interaction and the Internet. London,Sage Publications Limited
    Baron, N. 2009, Are Digital Media Changing Language? Literacy 2.0., 66(6), pg 42-46
    Crystal, D. (2008). Txtng: The gr8 db8. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
    Lenhart, A., Smith, A., & Macgill, A. R. (2008). Writing, technology, and teens. Washington, DC: Pew Internet and American Life Project. Available:

  4. Sharmila Jayaram

    You make some very interesting and relevant points in relation to social media and education.
    The use of online social media is certainly prevalent amongst Generation M students and it makes sense to harness this for the purpose of education in the classroom setting. Whilst there are benefits of using social media in terms of socialisation, communication and enhanced learning opportunities, the risks associated with their use must also be addressed. There are concerns of cyberbullying, sexting and Facebook depression with the use of social media in the secondary school setting. In fact according to a recent clinical report cyberbullying is quite common, and can result in depression, anxiety, severe isolation, and, even suicide in this age group (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010; O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011). Of particular concern is the phenomenon of Facebook depression amongst preteens and teens that spend a lot of time on social media (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011). If social media is to be successfully incorporated into the secondary school curriculum, there needs to be strict guidelines for its use in education. In addition both students and teachers need to be made aware of the privacy issues surrounding online social media and the impact of the digital footprint on their reputation and future career aspirations. Similar concerns with respect to privacy and the digital footprint have been raised with the use of social media in medical education.

    Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. W. (2010). Bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide. Arch Suicide Res, 14(3), 206-221. doi: 924722304 [pii] 10.1080/13811118.2010.494133
    O’Keeffe, G. S., & Clarke-Pearson, K. (2011). The impact of social media on children, adolescents, and families. Pediatrics, 127(4), 800-804. doi: peds.2011-0054 [pii] 10.1542/peds.2011-0054

  5. Pingback: Social Media Apprehensions in Public K-12 Education | Revolutionary Paideia

  6. Pingback: 5 Practical Uses of Social Media in the Classroom | Revolutionary Paideia

  7. Sicy

    Traditional forms of communication has indeed been changed, at least for the Generation M (Vie, 2008). Generation M can communicate to the world while staying inside the house, inside their room. They are familiar with engaging in multiple conversations to different people while scanning the live feeds of all their friends and updating their own status all at the same time. No more phone or face-to-face communication is required. Social networking has shifted the way people communicate with one another. This trend is increasing becoming the norm for many students currently in the education system, as evident in their written work. Through my teaching, I have encountered numerous times where student writing is abbreviated and shorten such as ‘ur’ for ‘your’ or ‘you are’ and students sometimes get the two confused in their writing. Thus is it crucial to explicitly teach students of Generation M to clearly differentiate when it is appropriate to use colloquial-type writing and when it is not, that is for school.

    • Sicy

      opps..forgot to put the reference

      Vie, S. (2008). Digital Divide 2.0: “Generation M” and online social networking sites in the composition classroom. Computers and Composition. 25, 9-23.

  8. Nicki,

    Great blog!

    I have to admit that I am one of those teachers who need to bridge the digital gap. Although, I am aware of social networking sites and have participated on some sites, I am not aware of the educational potential until this subject. I was also unaware about the widespread use of in emergency medicine conference until Miguel pointed it out his own experience and also recent literature on the topic. (Nomura et al, 2012)

    I also think it has great potential but can understand some of the hesitation and reservations from the teachers. Like you point out, many educators have raised concerns about legal responsibility, copyright issues and also the accuracy of information. (Begg et al, 2007) In the medical world, most scholarly publications go through a vigourous editing and approval process before the information is made available to all practitioners.

    There is great potential with social media and Web2.0 applications in education. Many educational disciplines have already embraced this technology. Although some disciplines have been a bit slower to engage with the technology, I think time, experience and education is already seeing those disciplines catch up quickly.

    Nomura, J., Genes, N., Bollinger, H., Bollinger, M., & Reed, J. (2012). Twitter use during emergency medicine conferences. The American journal of emergency medicine, 30(5), 819-820

    Begg M & Ellaway R, Dewhurst D & Macleod H (2007). Logos and Mythos: The Politicval Dilemmas of Web2.0 in an accreditation-driven educational environment. ICE 2007 – Ideas in Cyperspace Education, Loch Lomand, UK.

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