Social networking sites benefit low-income group students


Washington : Students from low-income groups who use MySpace and Facebook are as technologically proficient as their richer counterparts, according to a study.

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The University of Minnesota study found that 94 percent of these students used the Internet, 82 percent go online at home and 77 percent had a profile on a social networking site.

“What we found was that students using social networking sites are actually practising the kinds of 21st century skills we want them to develop to be successful today,” said Christine Greenhow of Minnesota University and the study’s principal investigator.

Asked what they learn from using social networking sites, students listed technology skills, followed by creativity, being open to new or diverse views and communication skills.

Data were collected over six months this year from students, aged between 16 and 18, in 13 urban high schools in the Midwest.

Beyond the surveyed students, a follow-up, randomly selected subset were asked questions about their Internet activity as they navigated MySpace, an online forum that provides users with e-mail, web communities and audio and video capabilities.

“Students are developing a positive attitude towards using technology systems, editing and customising content and thinking about online design and layout. They’re also sharing creative original work like poetry and film and practising safe and responsible use of information and technology. The websites offer tremendous educational potential.”

Greenhow said that the study’s results, while proving that social networking sites offer more than just social fulfilment or professional networking, also have implications for educators, who now have a vast opportunity to support what students are learning on the websites.

Interestingly, researchers found that very few students were actually aware of the academic and professional networking opportunities that websites provide.

Making this opportunity more known to students, Greenhow said, is just one way that educators can work with students and their experiences on social networking sites.

The study goes against previous research from Pew in 2005 that suggests a “digital divide” where low-income students are technologically impoverished.