Online Social Networks in Education

The concept of social networks

Social networking and related media tools have gradually become the most anticipated communication tools that people nowadays deem as imperative and convenient (Beaudoin, 2002). Over the years, social media has gradually become very trendy, with the advent of social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Google+ among others playing important social and even economic roles amongst populations (Rennie & Morrison, 2013). The ability of social networks to use technology-enabled devices to facilitate interaction amongst users has greatly influenced communication and sharing of information across subscribers, hence giving them opportunities and power to share interests and knowledge in certain disciplines (Veletsianos & Navarrete, 2012). Given the verity that these social networks exist on the Internet where millions of users freely and easily exchange ideas, opinions, and intuitions, or even discuss important issues in life, unique features of sharing fundamental information and files through social networks exist based on the idea of how people should recognize, familiarise, and interact with each other.

Coming with a multitude of modern technologies and its ability to use different attractive features through most yearned electronic devices including computers, mobile phones, and tablets, the electronic social networking websites allow radical peer-to-peer interaction (Silverman, 2007). Blogging activities that prevail within these social networks offer sites and forums as a means of communication with direct feedbacks experienced amongst subscribers and thus effective contact amidst people. Its ability to remain accessible worldwide has proved considerably paramount in decision making that involves global issues including political, social, and economic aspects across the globe. Perhaps, as Zaidieh (2012) argues, social media has become the most reliable modern communication tool that has found its way through the educational paradigm, where aspects of e-learning have become evident across several institutions globally. According to Barnes (2012), schools are communities of learners and social networks seem to be largely influencing how instruction delivery and knowledge sharing among learners is occurring over the years.

Effect of social networks in education and classroom

Social networks generally underscore unique online services integrated through the Internet or platforms meant for virtual social lives developed by people with the aim of enabling free interaction among people (Tiryakioglu & Erzurum, 2011). Social networks that in other words represent social media seem to influence almost every little aspect of human life and the field of education is not exceptional in this case. Khedo et al. (2012) posit that “ICT is known to help expand access to education, strengthen the relevance of education to the increasingly digital workplace, and raise educational quality” (p. 907). The journey of integrating social networks as the basis of important communication tools in education has prevailed for long, beginning in 1997 and gaining popularity in 2002 (Barnes, 2012). Technology is one of the major aspects propelling the invention of millions of social networks across the world with the most recent wave to media influence on education being the campaign on the use of Web 2.0 technologies.

A continuum of studies has emerged across the research industry with the aim of elaborating on how Social Networking Sites (SNS) have created a unique impact in the formal education setting. Hershkovitz and Baruch (2010) add, “Internet integration in higher education has stimulated high expectations, especially regarding accessibility, interactivity, and opportunities for improved instruction” (p.14). However, this aspect is not the main impact of social networking sites in the educational paradigm. Several advantages of social media in the educational setting have emerged from different studies including flexibility in learning, effectiveness in learning, improved communication among learners, early recognition of students’ needs, the establishment of mutual classroom communities, enhanced student engagement, enhance information management and an increased sense of high performance in learners (Veletsianos, 2011). However, as noted by Zaidieh (2012), social networks come with unique challenges integrated into the educational system and some of such challenges include privacy concerns among educators and learners, equality of access and social networking is time-consuming.

In the context of the impact of social networking sites in education, studies have identified the great contribution of social media in educational systems. Khedo et al. (2012) examined the use of Online Social Networking (OSN) as a Tool to Enhance Learning in the Mauritian Education System. This study investigated the use of OSNs by secondary students where it targeted students aged 12-18 in a targeted population of approximately 4000 learners. Using survey questionnaires, the study examined a number of issues in the use of social networks in schools. When questioned whether they undertake educational activities via OSN, (58.3%) agreed that they use OSNs for educational intentions (Khedo et al., 2012). From this study, improvement of communication as a learning aspect emerged, as 80.5% of learners revealed that they used OSN as communication tools through chat and messaging (Khedo et al., 2012). From the same study, students stated that OSN provides flexible learning as the majority of 51.9% agreed that they frequently accessed OSN sites daily.

Following the same study, it was evident that social networks in Mauritius schools played a significant role in school learning activities as some common educational activities that students engaged in involved discussing class activities (48.8%), looking for help from associates (69.3%), discussing exam papers (32.7%), as well as undertaking group, work online (39.0%). Fig. 1 represents this data. In an in-depth examination of the impact of OSN, Khedo et al. (2012) questioned learners whether the features found on these sites are useful in their educational activities. 80.5% of students responded that they used to chat and messaging to connect with friends, 41.7% agreed that they used their profile status and accounts to join or form discussion groups, and 25.3% in asking academic questions from their connected colleagues. Finally, 16.2% of learners used their profile and accounts in sharing files in the form of photos and videos containing educational content. Fig. 2 represents the following information concerning OSN in Mauritius educational system.

Educational Activities on OSN Source: (Khedo et al. 2012)
Fig 1: Educational Activities on OSN Source: (Khedo et al. 2012)
OSN features used for educational activities Source: (Khedo et al. 2012)
Fig. 2: OSN features used for educational activities Source: (Khedo et al. 2012)

As web 2.0 continues to expand across learning institutions, its uptake, though at low rates, seems to influence learning through communication and information sharing (Barbour & Plough, 2009). In a study to examine the Benefits and Drawbacks of Social Media in Education, Gamoran (2011) notices that approximately 90% of college students visit a social networking site daily. In this study, Gamoran (2011) reveals, “Social media tools and networking sites encourage students to engage with each other and to express and share their creativity” (p. 1). This assertion holds for learners are capable of sharing and developing the capability of practical reasoning while accessing and using social networks. Further in this study, Gamoran (2011) notes that learning is a long process that requires repetitive practices and that when effective instructional practices consistently prevail within classrooms, students’ performance enhances, and this need underscores a point where constant communication through social networks between instructors and learning deem vital. Wankel and Wankel (2011) affirm that social media makes learning more practical.

Previous researches on famous social networks

Globally, the wave of social networking in the contemporary days is rising and Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and MySpace among others form categories of most famous social networks across the world (Alexander, 2007). Facebook is currently the leading social network that spurs all forms of online activities across the globe with sources indicating that, approximately 400 million users and over 250 million active subscribers on a daily basis (Thongmak, 2013). The Facebook community has penetrated through colleagues and campuses and not only important for social interrelation, but also used for educational purposes. A 2010 study conducted by Brady, Holcomb, and Smith (2010), with the purpose of examining the use of alternative Social Networking Sites in Higher Educational Settings, a lot protracted from this study. This study examined “learners’ perception in the benefits associated with employing social networking technologies in schools” (Brady, Holcomb & Smith, 2010, p.151). From fifty graduate students who participated in an online survey, with a response rate of approximately 96%, the study found 14% of students having MySpace accounts and 30% had Facebook accounts.

When questioned on the importance of social networks in education, approximately 30% of learners indicated that they had used the SNS for educational purposes (Brady, Holcomb, & Smith, 2010). The study typically involved the case of Ning as one of the E-Learning sites. With its ability to minimize safety and privacy concerns from students, associated with commercial SNSs, Ning has influenced educators and learners to continue using social networking technologies (Veletsianos, 2011, p.44). From students’ perceptions, 74% of the participants stated that Ning allows students to have ample time for effective response on certain aspects as compared to face-to-face conversations. Approximately 82% agreed that Ning helps in communication outside the classroom and 42% believed that Ning aids in bettering communication among students. According to Veletsianos (2011), Ning also allows learners to improve their access and familiarity with new technologies as it allows learners and educators to create their own social networking websites with minimal chances of an attack from predators.

Ning is currently gaining popularity as one of the most effective social networks across the United States that can spur education as students enjoy building isolated websites that protect them from hack and other Internet users (Dalsgaard, 2008). In addition, “because Ning would be used exclusively for school, students are more apt to equate the use of the site with “homework” and thus are less likely to use it frequently at home” (Veletsianos, 2011, p.45). Perhaps the quick uptake of Facebook and MySpace seems to be putting analysts and researchers into the questions, though certain issues contribute to their exponential growth and spread. Facebook and MySpace receive clients as these social network sites are easy to use and integrate in technological devices (Griffith & Liyanage, 2008).

Popular social networking including Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and even Twitter seem to be having different influences on learners contrary to educational benefits and this seems to be a unique challenge within institutions. A study conducted by Brady, Holcomb, and Smith (2010), examining the impact of social networking sites in education revealed that despite a large number of learners possessing Facebook and MySpace accounts, only 30% of them used these accounts for educational purposes. A differing opinion from a study conducted by Tiryakioglu and Erzurum (2011) examined instructors’ perceptions on Facebook as a communication tool, and much protracted from this study. Instructors of the age group of 41-45 years participated in this study. 75 instructors working in the faculty of communication sciences at a Turkish university contributed to this study. 50 of 75 instructors, viz. (74%) possessed active Facebook accounts. 28 (65%) indicated that they use Facebook daily and approximately 33 (66%) of the instructors think positively about Facebook.

Edmodo social learning platform

Among the rapidly growing social networks associated with distance learning or e-learning in the modern world educational system is the Edmodo social learning platform that emerged as an educational social network (Thongmak, 2013). As defined by tech expo (2013), “Edmodo is a free social learning platform with the largest & fastest growing network of over 20 million teachers and students from around the world” (p.7). According to a definition by Edmodo (2013), “Edmodo is an online and mobile social learning platform that provides a safe and easy way for your students to connect and collaborate, share content, and access classwork in an online environment” (p. 2). Like the Ning social platform, which governments have recognized as an educative social site with minimal issues regarding privacy and safety, Edmodo has been considerably influential in e-learning and distance learning globally (Thongmak, 2013). According to Fardoun et al. (2012), Edmodo is one of the fastest-growing educational social sites that seem to be receiving a mixture of reactions from users.

Since its advent into the educational system, Edmodo is gradually picking and users are expressing their perceptions through different researches (Fardoun et al., 2012). Edmodo has proved influential in the educational paradigm thus making it receive substantial familiarity with instructors using it as a communication and instructional delivery tool for learners. With its ability to give a safe and secure social network designed specifically to support instructors and learners, Edmodo seems more effective than other social networks are as it possesses education-specific applications (Weber, 2012). This assertion holds for web-based Edmodo site does not require extensive use of personally identifiable information to create an account. In a study conducted by Wolfer (2012), who examined the effects of Edmodo on Student Engagement and Comprehension, the study revealed that Edmodo supports electronic collaboration that allows learners to interact freely with both teachers and fellow students. In addition to its advantages, students claimed that this social network allows time for reflective learning and is less distracting compared to face-to-face instruction or discussion.

Edmodo on Students’ motivation

Motivation is one of the key aspects of success whether in the business world or in the educational realm as when actors feel motivated in certain duties, the outcome becomes more positive (Grosseck & Holotescu, 2011). Educational attainment using Edmodo has been successful following a great number of positive responses among students and instructors. Zaidieh (2012) points out, “scholars praise social-networking tools for their capability to attract, motivate, and engage students in meaningful communicative practice, content exchange, and collaboration” (p.20). The sense of being convenient and flexible makes Edmodo, just like other SNS, attractive and motivating for learners by virtue of its accessibility (Selwyn, 2009). Edmodo allows electronic collaboration through its platform where students’ engagement and enjoyment in learning grow, thus making learners motivated as they engage in higher-order thinking spurred by online communities. According to Collins et al. (2011), social networking sites, Edmodo inclusive, contain technical literacy and critical content literacy where users can access rich educational content given their ability to use the search engines effectively and this motivates learners.

The use of social networks akin to Edmodo on average involves the formation of collaboration groups where learners interact freely while engaging in sharing content and creating or maintaining relationships (Barnes, 2012). A recent study conducted by Wolfer (2012) aimed at establishing the effects of Edmodo on the student engagement and comprehension and it gave a number of issues relating to motivation raised by this study. The study collected data on learners’ perceptions regarding the use of Edmodo after practically using the website for approximately a month. On a scale of 1-4, when questioned whether they enjoyed using it in learning, 42.1% of students provided a rating of 3 (deemed as good), while the majority of the accounting to 52.6 % gave a rating of 4 (deemed as excellent). In a different study conducted by Fardoun et al. (2012), examining the impact of online social networks in secondary schools in Saudi Arabia, the researcher noted that 68.75% of student respondents claimed that it was interesting to use Edmodo in education, while only a few 25% said it was not interesting.

Edmodo in communication between teachers and students

Online social networks as highlighted by different researchers are the most effective and powerful communication tools that connect million users across the globe. Zaidieh (2012) posits, “For students some degree of informal learning through informal communication, support for collaboration, feedback on thoughts and collaboration independent of space and time” (p. 19). Edmodo possesses unique communication features including blogging, texting, and file sharing features incorporated in the Edmodo platform, thus allowing instructors and learners to communicate effectively. Edmodo also involves creating online communities where both teachers and learners engage in classroom interactions online. In the context of improving communication between instructors and students, a study conducted by Thongmak (2013), aiming at investigating influence Social Network System in Classroom: Antecedents of Edmodo at Adoption can reinforce this argument. Through online surveys conducted on students’ perceptions over the impact of Edmodo on communication, 182 participants engaged in this study all undertaking a course in Management Information System.

From the study, the researcher noticed that the majority of the learners, accounting to approximately 165 participants, argued that Edmodo is a good social networking system as it, according to 140 respondents, enables teachers to communicate directly with learners while giving instructions or assignments. Of the 182 respondents, over 145 of them agreed that Edmodo highlighted that this educative social network possesses a system that enables giving information, assigning homework, grading, and even updating news, an aspect that reveals improved communication between teachers and students. A key feature that signifies cooperation between teachers and learners is constant appraisal and Edmodo supports this as 135 respondents in this study highlighted that the social network allows uploading or submitting files to instructors that enables constant assessment of learners. In the same study, learners argued that instructors are capable of easily checking finished assignments with more privacy compared to other social networks. On the same issue, Larson (2008) notes Edmodo allows immediate feedback among users and hence spurs communication between learners and instructors.

Student’s performance in English language learning through Edmodo

The use of social networking sites as a means of communication and instructional delivery tools in the e-learning world has in most cases associated with enhanced learner’s performance in different disciplines (Held, 2009). Academic performance is normally an integral issue in students and therefore any technological or instructional tool used should promote successful academic achievement among learners (Kear, 2011). English language has always been an important educational discipline and learners must perform well to remain competent in their professions. Research has linked the use of Edmodo with enhanced performance among learners and the English language is a major discipline featured in Edmodo discussions. According to Alexander (2007), social networking sites have greatly affected the development of students from growth by changing their learning experiences that enhance their performance. In examining antecedents of Edmodo, Thongmak (2013) unveils that Edmodo is an important step towards developing a deeper understanding in learners as it entails analyzing instructional quality and its effectiveness, and with Edmodo, instructional delivery seems to have changed and improved from its initial practice.

Studies have pointed out that Edmodo has intensified learning and enhanced academic achievement among learners. Since it has improved instructional delivery, learners’ achievements have probably enhanced. Gamoran (2011) notes, “When effective instructional practices were more consistent across classrooms within schools, higher levels of student performance emerged” (p. 7). In a study conducted by Wolfer (2012), which used data assembled from learners using Edmodo for approximately one month, revealed that this social network potentially influences performance especially in English learning. Based on this study, teachers developed Edmodo and made a follow up at the end of the month where they noticed that average students scored higher while undertaking comprehension questions after reading available texts using Edmodo. On average, learners managed to score 80% of comprehension questions, thus proving effective on individuals’ reading comprehension scores. All students who used Edmodo managed on average to score 67% of comprehension questions correct proving that Edmodo was an effective instructional delivery tool.

Teachers’ beliefs about Edmodo

Teachers are important partners in the educational paradigm and the success of students, as well as the integration of Edmodo, relies on these important actors. Edmodo has features that have attracted several instructors and made them have greater teaching experiences compared to other traditional social networking sites across the world (Greenhow & Robelia, 2009). Teachers normally need time to interact with learners and understand them better. Flexibility, as an aspect in Edmodo, is quite significant in teachers’ scheduling and planning behavior as teachers enjoy the flexibility in assessing their students despite their geographical position. In an examination of how Edmodo worked in schools, especially in relation to teacher’s engagement, Kirschner and Karpinski (2010) noticed that in some schools, teachers organized collaborative teams that contained formative student information to help them in planning instruction and assessment strategies based on the curriculum units. On a broader perspective, Conole (2010) asserts that teachers could engage with each other on academic issues and help one another in discussing important matters.

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