Exploring the use of social technology in the college classroom

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The phenomenon growth of social networking services/sites (SNSs) in recent years speaks to one of the defining features of Web 2.0 – the social web.  Today, social networking is very popular and digital native students already found social networking services integral to their daily life.  Many recent studies including my previous study indicate that social networking could be used in education to enhance students’ learning experiences and promote classroom communities of practice.

Approximately a year ago, Dr. Hsiu-Ting Hung and I conducted an exploratory study on the use of social networking technology to facilitate teaching and learning in the college classroom.  Our study set out to examine three regularly-scheduled courses at two public universities in Taiwan. Adopting the situated learning theory as the conceptual framework, our study attempted to answer two research questions: (1) What are students’ experiences with and views on the use of social networking sites in the courses under investigation? (2) What is the impact of using social networking sites to supplement face-to-face courses on students’ perceived sense of classroom community?

The findings of this study were presented at the 2010 SITE (Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education) International Conference in San Diego last week.   Overall, the results indicated that the majority of the students held positive attitudes towards the use of class social networks as a means to strengthen their connectedness among class members. Social networking in the observed classrooms was found helpful for promoting classroom communities of practice.  For more information about our study, please view the presentation shown below.  We welcome comments and suggestions.  Thanks.

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About Steve Yuen

I am a Professor Emeritus of Instructional Technology and Design at The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States.
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7 Responses to Exploring the use of social technology in the college classroom

  1. Dr. Yuen,

    I especially enjoyed our class discussion last week and this presentation on your research of the perceptions of SNSs in college classrooms. As a student presently enrolled in your IT 780 course, whereby the Ning network is utilized, becoming part of this network has, as your findings suggest, made me feel more apart of a group as a whole. Living a couple hours away from many of the other students and our college campus, it is easy to feel somewhat “displaced” in a hybrid course, especially when there is a large amount of expected student interaction online. However, as an avid Facebooker, Ning has created an educational learning environment shaped similiarly to Facebook, allowing one to upload a profile picture; customize a profile; post audio, photo, and video files; and socialize, collaborate, and interact with fellow students.

    While I feel more like a part of a learning “community” as a graduate student, I do have concerns about using social networks such as Ning in a high school classroom. I believe it would help the class to feel more “part of a whole;” however, I am concerned with the amount of personal information that students would want to post or share on the network. I believe there would be a definite need for a structured standard for what students are allowed to post, discuss, or share while using the network. I can envision many of my students attempting to post unrelated content, rather than keeping the network completely eductional. Because of this reason, I believe educators would need the utmost amount of access to student’s profile and messaging, perhaps in the form of a monitoring system.

    I am interested in learning more about integrating a social network such as Ning into my 10th-12th grade classroom. I feel positive that many of the benefits I’ve encountered as a college student would be have the same effect on high school students involved. I think SNSs in education will continue to become more flexible, dynamic, and useful as educational technology continues to evolve.

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  3. Dr. Yuen,

    As we are about to wrap up, I agree that our class has been a success. The whole class was set up on the combined basis of face-to-face meetings and our Ning site. Class mates are active among class activities and are all willing to help each other, share ideas and resources, encourage each other and providing each with constructive insights. Course content were then discussed and pondered and information was reinforced so we can apply it in our professional practice. It is impossible for one to study alone and gain good learning effects except s/he is a prodigy or a genius. Through communication concerning class topics, our learning experiences were enhanced, this confirmed the findings you presented in this study.

    Social networking is gaining more and more popularity among netizens. It is a platform that connects people together by their established profiles or public pages. This then became a virtual domain, or according to my observation and understanding, even a virtual home on the internet. This little domain represents users’ identity and manifests their interests, experiences, strengths, goals and so on. These features allow people who has similar interest to interact with each other and provides connections between people who are looking for professionals that share interests. China had more than 124,000,000 SNS users according to statistic in 2009, and the number keep growing. I contend that there’s huge potential to excavate the educational value of SNS among these SNS users, which is composed primarily by college students (Students took a large portion of China’s netizen population).

  4. Ahu says:

    It certainly looks as though the use of the social technology had a favorable reaction with the students, as one would predict that it would. However, given your experience with such social networks in both Asia and America, I wonder if you can draw any cross-cultural conclusions?

    From my experience, Asian students respond differently than students in Western classrooms, in several areas. All of these tend to make the nature and quality of the social interaction, both with and without the use of technology,

  5. Ahu says:

    It certainly looks as though the use of the social technology had a favorable reaction with the students, as one would predict that it would. However, given your experience with such social networks in both Asia and America, I wonder if you can draw any cross-cultural conclusions?

    From my experience, Asian students respond differently than students in Western classrooms, in several areas. All of these tend to make the nature and quality of the social interaction, both with and without the use of technology, quite different. From my experience, Asian students are more quiet in class and on social websites for classes, providing far fewer personal opinions, largely provided comments which conform to their perception of what the instructor is “looking for?” As part of this conformity-politeness approach, survey results can be disappointingly biased as well, even when anonymous, with skewed data for the vast majority of all teacher/class evaluations. One way which might overcome this potential bias is an interview-based approach or qualitative analysis of postings/writings. Finally, the idea of “sense of community” may be defined differently, and would almost certainly preclude the use of opinion statements, disagreement, or critical thinking of any kind. Social harmony would be the norm, and while file-sharing and some collaborative work would be possible, my experience shows that the online asynchronous format is likely serving primarily as a class requirement, with the true community-building taking place via instant messaging, in-class conversations, or out of class encounters. The reason, again, is largely cultural or structural, in that few Asian institutions offer distance learning opportunities, resulting in closer interpersonal ties among students in the first place, and a rather limited ability of social networking sites to foster additional “sense of community”.

  6. lwynn780 says:

    Since our next assignment in IT780 will be creating a social network (I’ve already done the podcast), I thought I would investigate some of the material on your blog covering the topic. I joined the SNS Livejournal in 2004, before I had any idea what Web 2.0 or social networking was. I did have the sense, though, that the Livejournal experience was a different kind of web, moving away from email and web pages, into a larger more complicated beast. I’ve only joined Facebook in 2010 and talk about overly large, overly complicated beasts! Its power is undeniable though. Your class is my first experience with SNS in an education setting and I love it. I have always preferred to work alone and have always been a little shy in terms of speaking out in class. The class SNS however, really makes collaboration easy. I’ve gained a lot from seeing the work other students have posted. On the one hand, I have the benefit of seeing their thoughts and work product which inspires me. On the other hand, I enjoy the sense of community, we’re all working on a common project, but I don’t feel shy or intimidated. We talked in class last week that mobile learning was not meant to be a substitution for face-to-face learning, but rather a supplement. While I definitely see the benefits of our face-to-face meetings, I think SNSs are closer to substituting face-to-face sessions than any other format I have been exposed to. Even blackboard, which offers forums and emails much like a SNS, seems dryer and duller than the mixxt SNS you have created for the IT classes. The pictures, videos, and feeds really flesh out the learning experience. It still amazes me that this is the face of education now. I consider myself young still, but I can vividly remember sending my very first email on AOL, and also remember when email didn’t exist. That education can be achieved at such great distances at such great speed, with technology that supports the amount of interaction that it does….it’s stunning, actually. But having experienced education pre-computers, and then when the Internet was in its infancy and now, I definitely prefer education as it is now and find that I am a better student for the ability to communicate through SNSs.

  7. Leslie Rasmussen says:

    It is not surprising that students would respond well to social media in the classroom. After all, as one of the textbook chapters pointed out, the new generation of students are considered digital natives and may even expect social technology to be integrated into courses. I realize this pots is over a year old, so I wonder if you have conducted follow-up research or tried to explore the classes you teach to uncover any differences or similarities. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed using social networks in IT classes. Using platforms that aren’t common to students could be a problem, or so I feel. I understand that Facebook is not desirable because students are likely to waste more time, but as a student pointed out to me this semster — they’re going to be on it regardless. Using Ning or other sites will really have to be pushed because students are not naturally going to gravitate towards them on a regular basis. I see the benefits of SNSs, but I am tempted to explore this using Facebook. It may be interesting to explore the differenes in preference by college-aged students.

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