Online social networking: Research and guidelines

Online social networking is increasingly used as a communications and collaboration tool of choice in businesses and higher education. As such it would be wise for schools, whose responsibility it is to prepare students to transition to adult life with the skills they need to succeed in both arenas, to reckon with it.

That’s one of the recommendations in the National School Boards Association publication, Creating and connecting: Research and guidelines on online social and educational networking. (National School Boards Association. July 2007, PDF, 12 pp.)

The report results from a study involving an online survey of more than a thousand 9- to 17-year-old students, an online survey of more than a thousand parents, and telephone interviews with 250 school district leaders who decide Internet policy.

According to the study, 96 percent of students with online access report they have used social networking technologies including chatting, text messaging, blogging, and visiting online communities like Facebook, MySpace and services designed specifically for younger children.

Yet the vast majority of school districts have stringent rules against nearly all forms of social networking during the school day, even though students and parents report few problem behaviors online.

Maybe that’s because many adults, including school board members, are like fish out of water when it comes to this new online lifestyle, the report suggests. It’s important for policymakers to see and try out the kinds of creative communications and collaboration tools that students are using, so that their perceptions and decisions about these tools are based on real experiences.

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