Social networking is…a good thing

A MacArthur funded study was just released regarding the activities kids are involved in online.  It’s an interesting read for all educators and parents.  They conclude that the “hanging out”, “messing around”, and “geeking out” that kids do online helps students gain media literacies and skills they will need to fully participate in the 21st Century society.  Here’s a quote from the summary of the report:

New media allow for a degree of freedom and autonomy for youth that is less apparent in a classroom setting. Youth respect one another’s authority online, and they are often more motivated to learn from peers than from adults. Their efforts are also largely self-directed, and the outcome emerges through exploration, in contrast to classroom learning that is oriented by set, predefined goals.

In the conclusion, the report goes on to say, that schools (and parents) should not see social networking as a waste of time:

Rather than seeing socializing and play as hostile to learning, educational programs could be positioned to step in and support moments when youth are motivated to move from friendship-driven to more interest-driven forms of new media use.

Another point made in the conclusion is that kids find learning from their peers highly motivating:

Peer-based learning is characterized by a context of reciprocity, where participants feel they can both produce and evaluate knowledge and culture. Whether it is comments on MySpace or on a fan fiction forum, participants both contribute their own content and comment on the content of others. More expert participants provide models and leadership but do not have authority over fellow participants.

And finally, the report concludes with this (among other) question:

what would it mean to think of education as a process of guiding kids’ participation in public life more generally, a public life that includes social, recreational, and civic engagement?

You can access the summary “white paper” or the entire report here.

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