Social Networking in Education – Engaging students in a collaborative learning experience.

David Hamill

Trinity College Dublin (TCD)

There are many issues and problems that students in 2nd and 3rd level education may have to overcome if they wish to engage in a learning process, including social, economic, geographical, educational and physical disabilities. More recently students have become engaged with ‘Social Networking’ sites, like Bebo[1] and Facebook[2] . These virtual environments emphasise the social collaboration between users with the explosion of diverse Web 2.0 applications available to imbed into a users environment. This research study asks the principle question: In what ways could a Web 2.0 social network engage students in collaborative learning experience? To answer this question a number of areas of interest have been identified, including social inclusion, reflection, peer mentoring and the potential skills gap between users.
Social Constructivism has been identified as a pedagogical approach to best leverage the affordances of Web 2.0 technology. This study will replicate a constructivist model to achieve effective online learning as designed by Gilly Salmon. In addition to constructivism this study also takes advantage of the ‘blended learning’ pedagogical approach to learning, combining the traditional classroom with online delivery of content.
This study examines socially excluded underprivileged students from across various economically and socially deprived areas within Dublin who are given the opportunity to realise their full educational potential via the Trinity Access Programme (TAP). The study will involve development of a custom-built VLE (http://tap2008.ning.com), using a social-networking online-platform called Ning[3] to facilitate collaborative learning with various activities/components. These include the use of profiling, instant messaging, content sharing, online discussion and the use of Blogs to post reflections. A case study approach was used in this research, gathering data for analysis by various qualitative and quantitative methods, including online questionnaires, interviews, reflective notes, web site analysis and observation. Initial evidence from detailed analysis suggests Blended Learning as a successful approach using the Web 2.0 VLE. Furthermore analysis suggests successful interaction between mentors and students. There were some interesting unexpected outcomes with regard to tutor’s experience of Web 2.0 technologies, censorship and the issue of copyright of content published within the VLE.
[1] www.Bebo.com
[2] www.Facebook.com
[3] www.Ning.com

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