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Executive Summary

This research made use both primary and secondary sources of information to find examine the effect that information technology had on education in the UK. The study was composed of two tasks with the first task dealing with the collection of secondary data and the secondary task collection of primary data. Secondary data was collected by means of literature review and specifically the study was examining the use of social networking for educational purposes. Using the secondary data the study also identified and distinguished trends within teaching and learning by using social networking technology. Finally the study identified existing cases of success and failure of social networking in education in the UK. From the literature review it was revealed that use of social networking for educational purpose is a relatively new phenomenon which is gathering momentum with as per the trends observed. The second task involved collection of data from primary sources. This took the form of questionnaires which were dispersed out to students. Some few interviews were also conducted to gather information. The primary sources revealed similar results as those revealed by the secondary sources.

Online social networking can be viewed as a range of social activities that are made possible by social technologies. Web 2.0 social technologies have been used in the recent past to facilitate the online social networking. It has been observed that online social networking is very popular among the young people and in most cases it is used for non educational purpose. This study delves deep into secondary and primary sources to examine the extent to which the online social networking is used for educational purposes in the UK.

This is the first section of the report which examines what literature has covered in reference to use of online social networking for education purposes. There are many authors that have identified the positives and negatives of using social networking and its technologies within education. Under task one the use of social networking within education will be evaluated by covering the following criteria:

The use of social networking for educational purposes

It has been pointed out by many authors that the use of online social networking is quite popular among the young people. With the advance in technology especially the development of the web 2.0 it has been extremely easy to use the internet as social facility in various ways. The young people, mostly students, are fond of these social networks and have been branded various names: Net Generation (Tapscott 1998; Oblinger and Oblinger 2005; Tapscott 2009), Digital Natives' (Prensky, 2001) among other names. According to Murray (2008) the young people rarely use the online social networks for education purposes. This has arisen much concern from authorities and many studies have been carried out to determine the extent to which the internet is used for education purpose. Though the level of using the online social networking for education might be at very low levels, researches conducted by various scholars have shown the indications of the youth harnessing this potential for education purpose. Jones & Madden (2002) and Kvavik & Caruso (2005) have reported that gradually the online social networking is being embedded in the education system. More recently Selwyn et al (2008); Salaway and Caruso (2008) and Johnson et al (2008) & (2009) have also presented reports showing that online social networking is gradually being integrated in the education process. In an exemplary research carried out in the UK it was shown that actually the various online social facilities can easily (and were used in the research) be used for education (Minocha, 2009). This research was conducted on various students from different colleges and the research results indicated that the some of the online social networks were already being used for education purposes (Minocha, 2009). Therefore in answering the question of whether online social networks are being used for education the answer is positive. It is however worth to note that the use of these facilities for education purposes has not being fully embraced by the student and hence the need to encourage the youth to move in those trends. This moves us to the next section:

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Trends within Teaching and Learning by using Social Networking Technology

Taking into consideration the potential that is harbored within online social networking, it is quite encouraging to observe that the current trends indicate that these services are increasing being embedded within the education system. In an extensive research carried out within higher learning institutions in the UK it was revealed that the internet is increasingly becoming a learning aid which might be inseparable from the learning process. Minocha (2009) in the research sought to find out how students and teachers used various online social networks purposely for education.

The result of their study showed that the wikis were used to support small group discussions. This was found to be quite appropriate especially when students were required to work on a project collaboratively. At times when the members were not familiar with each they resorted to facebook as pre-induction facility. Ning was predominantly used for long distance programs. On the teachers side it was revealed that blogs were used to support trainee teachers. Online digital photography student's community used open studio to learn from each other. Wikis and video conferencing were found to be very appropriate for some collaborative engineering projects among students. For historical classes it was revealed that blogs, wikis and social bookmarking were used extensively for exploration of historical sources and to support web based research. Dentistry classes used Social networking and community-building. In some instances it was shown that the social networking could be used to network students and their teachers. For the practical classes in the geographical information science Google earth was found to be quite handy. Skypecast was applied to support a group of long distance students. Facebook and tweeter were used by teachers to obtain student feed back on some issues (Minocha, 2009). Generally, the study carried out by Minocha (2009) showed that gradually the online social networking facilities are being integrated into the learning process. In one or two ways the facilities found appropriate applications in the learning process.

Existing cases of success and failure of social networking in education in the UK

The use of online social networking facilities in learning process has provoked debates on whether the facilities are worth being integrated into the education system. There are arguments which touch on the social effect that the facilities cause. It has been argued that the facilities are replacing the natural interaction with a virtual interaction (Cottrell, 2008). It has been argued that if the online social networking facilities are to replace the natural interaction then there is a likelihood that students and the young people in general will fail to develop some virtues which come with natural interaction. Online facilities are fast and easy to manipulate and as such extreme users of these facilities will likely not develop virtues as endurance among others. It has also been argued that the online social facilities are quite distractive and take up much time.

Viewed from a different angle, the online social networking facilities have been viewed to be positively contributing to the learning process. It has been argued that due to their nature these facilities make learning to be fast. It has been argued that facilities such as facebook make it possible for students to interact with their teachers even when it is not possible to have a physical meeting.

The second task involves the use of primary search to cover two questions. This will involve the designing of questionnaires and interviews questions. The set of the questions are under the appendix. The two questions to be answered are:

The research was carried out within the UK. Students were picked at random but from different career fields. This was done intentionally so as to bring out the use of technology in different fields. Tutors from different teaching fields were also involved in the research. An interview was carried out with an education officer. A total of 100 questionnaires were sent out to the students with eighty percent of the questionnaires being returned. With the 80 returned questionnaire, each questionnaire had 80 answers. A general reflection was drawn from the eighty answers given out to each question. The interviews which were carried out were not recorded but notes were taken on the answers given to the interview questions.   

The use in education of various social networking websites by students

A general reflection from the answers given to the questionnaires revealed that students use social networking websites in education. A good of the answers claimed that the social websites was making learning convenient especially for discussions. The students claimed that actually all the online social websites could be used in one or two ways for the learning process. From the answers given it is correct to argue that almost all the social facilities can be in one way or another find a use in the learning process. To the students these platforms offered them a chance to open up to the larger community. Student involved in social and community related careers easily used the social networks to gather views on some issues which they could further research on. Those in engineering courses found it quite appropriate to engage in discussion with other students in geographical far away places through video conferencing and using wikis. The answers reflected a possibility of forming discussion groups with members from virtually different countries. In general the primary source gave a reflection that online social networks are being harnessed and tapped well into the learning process.

The effectiveness of different social technology tools

It was revealed that the online social networks are quite effective as they were effectively used as learning aids in various scenarios. Blogs were used for inductions, discussion and in collecting materials for projects. Wikis were used for discussions. They were found quite appropriate for small group discussions. Wikis were also used for collection of project materials. Video conferencing was also revealed as a significant means of enhancing discussions. The interviews which were conducted with an education and tutors also gave views aligned to supporting online social networks as powerful and effect means of enhancing education.  

The findings are very similar to what was revealed through the secondary sourcing. It is clear that social online networks are gradually being integrated in the learning process and they have proved to be quite effect. It has been possible to educational discussion online through such forums as video conferencing. Though in its early development stages, the use of online social networks is seen as the future for the learning process.

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