Reading, Writing and Facebook: Social Nets Can Make School More Relevant

Ann All

Can Facebook and other social networking sites make you smarter?


Yes, according to a new University of Minnesota study of teens from 13 urban high schools in the Midwest. Or if not smarter, more creative and open-minded. Teen users of the sites say they enhance their technology skills, creativity and communication skills, and also make them more open to new and diverse views.


All of these attributes, obviously, would be welcome in most workplaces. (Though at least some employers have qualms about allowing unfettered access to social networking sites at work.)


Lead researcher Christine Greenhow, of the university's College of Education and Human Development, says in a news release:

... students using social networking sites are actually practicing the kinds of 21st century skills we want them to develop to be successful today. [They] are developing a positive attitude towards using technology systems, editing and customizing content and thinking about online design and layout. They're also sharing creative original work like poetry and film and practicing safe and responsible use of information and technology.

Such sites offer "tremendous educational potential," says Greenhow, because educators can extend the lessons learned online into their classrooms. She says:

By understanding how students may be positively using these networking technologies in their daily lives and where the as-yet unrecognized educational opportunities are, we can help make schools even more relevant, connected and meaningful to kids.

Who knows, they may get more kids interested in pursuing fields like computer science, something experts agree the U.S. needs to do if it hopes to maintain its competitive edge in the global economy. Or maybe not.


Back in October, I cited an article in which a Marquette University professor noted that young people are less likely to pursue careers in IT because it is "an expected part of life" rather than a potential vocation. The same professor also says that the "cryptic one-liners" used in text messages and on sites like Facebook are degrading young people's writing skills.

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