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Research Summary 2: Social Network Services

March 28, 2010 Leave a comment

social network graph


The ubiquity of social network service (SNS) usage amongst adolescent students is changing the way in which teens communicate, socialise and construct their social identity. Further, the new forms that social spaces have taken have changed the set of skills that teens develop in the course of their daily lives. This has enormous implications for educators at many levels, as students and curricula demands are both changing.

In this essay I will provide a brief overview of research into teen use of social network services.  I have also identified two areas of particular interest,  namely; the role of SNS in teen social identity formation; and informal learning opportunities through SNS.

Overview of teen SNS use in Australia

An outline of recent Australian research into teen usage of SNS is appropriate as it sets the scene for the following analysis. Further, the understanding of teen SNS use patterns portrayed in the media, web and some research is often based on perceptions and sweeping generalisations rather than solid data. The Australian Communication and Media Authority’s report (ACMA, 2009) provides a snapshot of SNS use based on survey data from 819 Australian students aged between eight and seventeen years old, and their parents. Survey data were collected during November 2008 adding timeliness to the other strengths of the research; wide scope; rigor and relevance.

The generalisation, that all teens are using SNS is defensible, as nine out of ten teens (12-17 y.o.) reporting usage. By late teens, the phenomenon is near ubiquitous with 97% of 16-17 year olds using at least one service. In this same age bracket, total site usage (a measure which incorporates both participation levels and the number of profiles per student) is 266%, indicative that teen usage is pervasive and extensive (ACMA, 2009), a statistic which demands attention from educators (and clearly, social researchers).

The motivations for teen (12-17 y.o.) SNS usage found by ACMA (2009), are revealing. Teens cite their principal reason for using social network services to be to socialising with friends they already know (85% cite reasons explicitly mentioning known friends). A small fraction of teens (4%) report that ‘making new friends’ is their primary motivation (with a further 13% citing this as a secondary or tertiary motive)(ACMA, 2009). This finding is clear yet runs against the common perception of SNS, particular the emotive ‘stranger danger’ fear-mongering employed by certain media outlets. This is a misconception of SNS. As Danah Boyd put it, SNS is about

“marking and relating to the people you already knew. They weren’t about social network-ing, (and that’s actually where I think the media’s confused a lot of things). They are social network sites. They are a place where you actually build and model your social network, not where you engage in  network-ing. The goal isn’t meeting people: The goal is socialising.” (punctuation and italics added to reflect emphasis in oral delivery) (Boyd, 2007a)

A further result of note is the rate of uptake of privacy settings amongst teens (12-17y.o.).  A majority (69%) of teens make use of private settings on social network services, leaving 24% who do not and 7% who are unsure (ACMA, 2009). Whether this warrants the 77% of parents (ACMA, 2009) who claim to worry about their children’s information being in the public domain is a question for parents, yet the disparity between these statistics is interesting and perhaps indicative of a lack of clear communication and guidance on these issues (though this is merely speculation, the report offers no explanation).

Social Identity Construction

So why is hanging out with friends (that you already see at school all day) so important? Danah Boyd is a key researcher in the field and I (along with many other researchers) will follow her lead on this issue. Boyd’s argument centres on the development of social skills, clearly a hugely important domain of learning, yet one that is not always prominent in curricula.

“Helping children develop social skills is viewed as a reasonable educational endeavor in elementary school, but by high school, educators switch to more “serious” subjects. Yet, youth aren’t done learning about the social world.” (Boyd, 2009).

Further, argues Boyd, the level of structure imposed on modern teen life precludes any unstructured socialising and this has seen the death of public spaces where teens can simply ‘hang-out’. Teens are using social network services to provide an important public social space where much informal learning is done. As such, SNS are hugely important, providing an environment where teens can experiement, make social mistakes and learn from those of others; ultimately playing an importnat role in teen social identity formation.

Social researchers (such as Boyd) and those in advertising (eg. Gangadharbatla, 2008) have realised the importance of SNS in teen identity formation. Advertisers use this knowledge when marketing to teens, as they will readily uptake products if they can help teens work out who they are and proclaim their identity (MacPhearson, 2007). Educators could learn valuable lessons when attempting a foray into SNS for formal learning. Tasks should be designed to align with existing teen SNS usage such that they encourage self expression, social collaboration and strengthening self identity, motivating students to engage with the task.

A brief aside. It was a comment in a recent Australian report on ICT access for marginalised youth (Blanchard, Metcalf, & Burns, 2007) that first got me interested in this topic (whilst researching for my previous summary – see relevant post). Whilst SNS is important in social identity formation for the majority of teens, those without access at home (an thus subject to filtered internet access at school) are further marginalised and do not have this opportunity: Yet another manifestation of the digital divide. Perhaps schools should reconsider their motives for filtering internet content.

Informal learning and pedagogical implications of SNS

Teens develop valuable skills through their online experiences (just as with those offline), an example of informal learning. That these skills are valuable and highly relevant to contemporary society is indubitable. Skills that digital natives bring to school include collaborative problem solving, collaborative research and authoring, advanced communication skills and teamwork skills. These skills are brought to school, yet they may not be used within the confines of a traditional classroom or curriculum.

In her recent monograph, Kathryn Moyle (2010) states that;

“the ubiquity of several technologies, and the robustness of young people’s abilities to communicate and collaborate, presents challenges for educators and stakeholders about how they conceive of schools. Indeed, it is time to reconsider what is a school and in what ways it can best fulfil its roles.” (p.39)

Moyle argues that the challenge for educators is to design formal learning tasks such that students can further develop and apply web-learnt skills in new settings. This is no small feat, yet the problem is not entirely new. The presence of general, interdisciplinary skills in modern curricula such as the ACT’s Every Chance to Learn curriculum framework (ACT Government, 2007), require teachers to design tasks and content to facilitate the transfer of general capabilities across discipline boundaries (Moyle, 2010). How, for example, can we expect students to apply their informal learning of collaborative, project-based problem solving skills learned from playing MMOG in the classroom? Boyd (2007b) suggest that a bi-directional approach to learning is required in this context and that teachers should not be afraid to learn from students such that we can better support them.

In my opinion, this problem demands a democratic approach to curriculum implementation such that students have input into how and what they learn. This must be coupled with an increased focus on meta-cognition, affording a reflective insight into the skills teens are using in their infromal, online learning. The rich task model (Education Queensland, 2001) could be used in this context to engage students to extend their interdisciplinary skills, whilst meeting disciplinary requirements.

Conclusions

Australian teens are heavy users of social network services. Through their online interactions, teens are not only learning in ways they currently do not at school but further, shaping their identities. To dismiss SNS as trivial or a passing fad would be both ignorant and a missed opportunity of enormous proportions. As educators, we must at the very least, give this media the respect and thought it deserves: At best, this is an opportunity to learn from our students, to rethink curriculum, and launch into a new pedagogy which re-engages our youth.


References

(ACMA, 2009)

Moyle: Word outta da UC

March 28, 2010 Leave a comment

a very handsome lizard

How fortunate, the latest UC Monitor Online features an article on Kathryn Moyle’s research into ICT in education (Students learn from sites like Facebook – Monitor Online). As a result, I read the latest Australian Education Review, Building Innovation: Learning with technologies authored by Moyle, one of UC Education’s own.

On student use of ICT, Moyle is to the point, highlighting the very different way that we (as adults) percieve or conceptualise technology (as opposed to the digital natives we will be teaching).

“Students’ lives are imbued with technologies: they do not separate their lives according to ‘without technologies’ and ‘with technologies’ as adults often do” (p.31)

Moyle describes teen student internet use as inherently collaborative and social. This is vastly different from the way they use technology at school or from ‘our’ idea of best practice. She suggests the way forward is to leverage students’ existing collaborative usage patterns (and the skills which go along with it) and interests in well designed learning activities.

Indeed, a pedagogical response is required, but translating skills learned in an informal environment (where students are motivated by entertainment or social concerns) to formal learning tasks, in the classroom…. well it’s difficult. Moyle gives the example of high-level collaborative, project-based problem solving skills learned from playing MMOG. That these skills are valuable is indubitable, yet to the question of how to design formal learning tasks such that students can further develop and apply these skills in new settings has no simple answer.

This conundrum isn’t ignored by Moyle; she describes the issue as “problematic and unresolved”(p.37). This problem is not limited to ICT and is one example of the difficulties encountered when attempting to transfer general capabilites (commonly found in curricula) accross discipline boundaries.

Suggesting pedagocial approaches to apply these informally learnt skills to formal learning is however, beyond the scope of the paper. As such the paper provides a documentation of the current state of play, with a provocative and insightful analysis of the problems to be solved, but no solutions are put forward. Of particular value is the special reference to Australia.

Now for my 2¢.

The problem faced in trying to transport collaborative authoring skills learnt through students’ use of social network sites to, say, a piece of research-based group work in history, is not-trivial. A number of concerns leap out. I will list them quickly (brain-dump alert!);

  • We need students to be aware of the skills they have and are using in SNS. Encouraging metacognitive approach.
  • We need to design formal learning tasks such that students can readily transfer skills without undermining motivation and enthusiasm
    • We don’t want to ‘kill’ SNS for teens
    • Perhaps we should stop think about ‘using’ the technology (eg. using social network sites in education) and think more about harnessing the skills
  • Be unafraid to learn from students and allow flexibility in course design
    • Democratic curriculum design would work well (at least I think so) in this context

All in all, I think these concerns point towards the utility of a rich task model.


  • Moyle , K. Building Innovation: Learning with technologies, Australian Education Review No 56. Melbourne: ACER. It includes a Foreword by James Bosco, Professor Emeritus in Educational Studies, Western Michigan University. This title was released 9 March 2010.

Danah Boyd: Sociality Is Learning

March 28, 2010 Leave a comment

crowd

Image Source : http://www.flickr.com/photos/twose/ / CC BY-NC 2.0


From Danah Boyd’s apophenia blog, an article titled: Sociality is Learning.

Helping children develop social skills is viewed as a reasonable educational endeavor in elementary school, but by high school, educators switch to more “serious” subjects. Yet, youth aren’t done learning about the social world.

Boyd argues that the teenage years are hugely important in developing social skills, self esteem and identity. Imposed structure has increasingly become a feature of modern teen life, at the expense of unstructured social time “hanging out”. It is this unstructured social time which provides the environment for learning and mastering social skills.

<trumpet fanfare> Enter social media </trumpet fanfare>

Teens have embraced social media as they provide a public space to hang out in when no others exist. Whilst traditional educators may dismiss the value of social network sites, it is for the very same reasons that Boyd embraces it. She encourages a respect for the kind of learning which is going on in these spaces and calls for educators to be supportive, not judgmental of teen learning.

In another paper (Why Youth ♥ Social Network Sites, 2007) Boyd echoes these sentiments.

“Perhaps instead of trying to stop them or regulate usage, we should learn from what teens are experiencing? They are learning to navigate networked publics; it is in our better interest to figure out how to help them.”

Indeed, learn how to help them but more-so, we should be learning from them. These statements are laden with pedagogical implications. In my mind, a democratic, constructivist approach to learning involving rich tasks sits well with this idea of bi-directional learning and would represent a worthwhile use of the technology for both students and teachers.


  • Boyd, D. (2007). “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life.” MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Learning – Youth, Identity, and Digital Media Volume (ed. David Buckingham). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Retrieved from www.danah.org/papers/WhyYouthHeart.pdf

Revisiting the digital divide: identity formation

March 28, 2010 Leave a comment

faces

I’m revisiting an Australian report I read as part of my first research topic (see relevant post here). It wasn’t that relevant to the topic (open source textbooks), but it got me thinking in a way I hadn’t before (which is a good thing 🙂 ). I doubt I would have attached great value to this without having heard Danah Boyd talk on social identity.

The report gives a rather standard account of teen identity formation using social media. What is really interesting is how access issues relate to this phenomenon. Schools, library and other places where students can use internet for free, frequently block content including social network sites.  “This has particular implications for young people’s identity formation and social relationships if school is their only internet access point” (p.19).

So whilst teen social identity formation through social networks sites is an interesting topic of study, it is important to remember that some teens are excluded from this process. Unfortunately, as summed up by Danah Boyd, ” if you’re not on my space, you don’t exist”. The extent to which this is true in different social settings is debatable, yet the message is clear and the divide very real.


Blanchard, M., Metcalf, A., Burns, J.M. (2007) Bridging the digital divide: creating opportunities for marginalised young people to get connected’ Report for the Inspire Foundation and OrygenYouth Health Research Centre, University of Melbourne, Melbourne.

Insight from the marketing industry

March 28, 2010 Leave a comment

abstract data visualisation

A quick reflection on a post by Michelle MacPhearson, a blogger who aims describes herself as “integrating “Web 2.0″ technology – that is, the hip, new, cool stuff all the kids are using – into my marketing”.

MacPhearson is responding to a Danah Boyd essay on to teen identity formation on the internet. She looks at the issue from marketing perspective and claims most marketers are missing the point and don’t see social networking sites as the identity forming tool it has become for contemporary teens.

She encourages marketers promoting via social network sites, to reflect on the value their product or service bring teens. Products will succeed in  the social networking domain if they can help teens work out who they are and proclaim their identity. These sentiments are echoed in the marketing and advertising literature (see, for example; Gangadharbatla, 2008)

Now before you get cynical about marketers, there is a valuable lesson here for educators.

As we attempt to integrate social networking into formal education, we must me mindful of student motivation, interests and attitudes. Are the tasks we’re asking students to complete using social media furthering their ability to construct identity, or allowing them to express themselves: Or are our best laid plans destined to go awry?

If we are not using online tools in the way students are, or harnessing the skills they have developed through their use, then we are starting from scratch, squandering the opportunity that students engagement with social media affords educators.


Gangadharbatla, H.  2008. Facebook Me: Collective Self-Esteem, Need to Belong,and Internet Self-Efficacy as Predictors of the iGeneration’s Attitudes toward Social Networking Sites. Journal of Interactive Advertising. 8(2).

Social Networking: Quantitative data from Australia

March 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Abstract bar graph

ACMA released its report Young Australian’s use of online social media mid 2009. Being somewhat numerically inclined, I was drawn to the quantitative report (though a qaulitative report was also published). This allows a quick and recent snapshot of internet use and opinion in Australia. I have focused on the results for social networking sites and trends in usage.

Who is using social networking services?

  • 8-9 Years     : 37%
  • 10-11 Years : 64%
  • 12-13 Years : 80%
  • 14-15 Years : 94%
  • 16-17 Years : 97%

What does this tell us? Social networking use increases as students progress through high school. It is a ubiquitous feature of contemporary Australian adolescent life.

Why are students using social media?

Teen motivations for use of social media

Image source

Privacy Issues

Over the range of ages, 20-30% of students are not making use of private access settings for social media pages. a further 5-10% are unsure. Rates of uptake of privacy settings increase with age (up to 76% with 17 year old students).

Yet parents are afraid. In the figure below documenting parental concerns, the first question is most interesting as it breaks from the symmetric patterns of concern seen with the other questions.

Parental concerns over childrens' use of social media

Image source

Australian Communications & Media Authority (ACMA). (2009b). Click & connect: Young Australian’s use of online social media. 02: Quantitative research report. Sydney: Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved from http://www.acma.gov.au/webwr/aba/about/recruitment/click_and_connect-02_quantitative_report.pdf .

Can we teach without technology?

March 19, 2010 1 comment

American penny

Image Source : http://www.flickr.com/photos/r-z/ / CC BY 2.0


from ‘Technology and Teaching‘ on David Warlick’s blog ‘2¢ worth’

Davis has surveyed teachers on their attitudes to technology in education. Their are some sampling issues (as pointed out by the author)

it is important to note that this was a technology conferences and all of the high school teachers there attended voluntarily — so they were largely the converted

however, it remains as an intersting, quantitative description of a subset of teacher attitudes.

The questions and responses

  1. Can a teacher be a good teacher without using technology?
    • Yes – 69% (135)
    • No – 31% (62)
  2. Is a teacher who is not using technology (computer, internet, etc.), doing his or her job?
    • Yes – 12% (13)
    • No – 88% (94)

Overwhelmingly these (self-selecting, presumably computer-literate) teachers reject the idea that teaching in an old paradigm is OK (despite the fact students CAN learn this way).