Matthew Newton Memorial University of Newfoundland.
Definitions and background
Social software, also known as Web 2.0, includes technologies such as social networking sites (SNS), for example, Facebook and MySpace, blogs, wikis, Ning and video sharing sites (Duffy, 2008). Social software permits free online collaboration, social connections, and resource sharing among users (Hossain and Wiest, 2013). Using social software as an educational platform allows learners to manipulate their learning environment to create a more individualized, ‘self-directed’ and participatory learning environment (Wodzicki, Schwammlein and Moskaliuk, 2012). Duffy (2008) and Badge, Sanders, and Cann (2012) argued that the ubiquitous use of social software among young people make it an appropriate learning apparatus to engage younger students. Garcia-Martin and Garcia-Sanchez (2013) noted that social software plays a significant role in young people’s personal and social stratosphere. Badge et al. (2012) found that those born in or after 1980, also referred to as the ‘net generation’, rely heavily on information technology for social and professional interactions. Duffy (2008) also described net generation students as “digital natives” or the “Nintendo generation” in that they tend to absorb information quickly in images and video as well as text, from multiple sources simultaneously. Similarly, Driscoll(2007) claimed that net generation students are actively participating in social networking and other online communities, so most students are familiar and confident with using social software in the classroom.
Integrating social software technology into the curriculum can enhance student motivation, promote constructivist learning environments and enrich the learning environment (Callaghan & Bower, 2012; Heafner & Friedman, 2008). Saadatmand and Kumpulainen (2013) remarked that social software provides more flexible, diverse and individualized learning environments for students. Duffy (2008) outlined the benefits that social software can offer to engage students by providing educators with many possibilities for adopting desirable practices such as “collaborative content creation, peer assessment and motivation of students through innovative use of media” (p.125). Heafner (2004) observed that technology enhances self-efficacy and student self-worth. Hossain and Weist (2013) noted that social software is more likely to engage today’s youth. Likewise, Casey (2013) concluded that social software’s media features combined with a face-to-face classroom environment provided an effective means for students to construct and share their skills and knowledge. Badge et al. (2012) concluded that the collaborative nature of social software has led to an increase in student motivation because students feel a sense of belonging within online communities.
The interactive nature of social software can promote cooperative learning environments and enhance learning (Hossain and Wiest, 2013: Heafner, 2004). Heafner (2004) noted “With this nurturing environment, students are able to rely comfortably on their peers to assist with technical difficulties without fear of social embarrassment” (p.48). Finally, O’Bannon, Lubke and Britt (2013) concluded that social software encouraged collaboration between learners. Callaghan and Bower (2012) explained how SNSs (social networking sites) create new opportunities for self-directed learning that supports all levels of cognitive abilities, peer-based learning and the development of new media literacy. Similarly, Friedman and Heafner (2007) argued that technology offers an apparatus to promote student-centred learning, higher-level thinking and real-world learning activities. Heafner (2004) commented that “Technology empowers students by engaging students in the learning process. The nature of the task shifts from teacher centered to student centered.”(p.47) In a study on the use of Wikis to motivate social study students, Heafner and Friedman (2008) noted that the pedagogical shift from behaviorist to constructivist learning was facilitated by wikis which allowed students to move beyond passive class participants and become active creators of knowledge. Callaghan and Bower (2011) described the success that the social software Ning has had in promoting self-directed learning. They observed that students worked independently by logging into Ning and proceeding with their work without the intervention of the teacher.
Ertmer, Newby, Liu, Tomory, Yu and Lee (2011) outlined many co-operative learning barriers to using social software such as coordinating different time zones and encouraging students to engage in in-depth discussions. Cultural differences may impede collaboration and aspects of course design or delivery needs to be modified and facilitated in order to overcome cultural differences (Stepanyan, Mather & Dalrymple, 2013).
Kim and Bateman (2010) revealed in their study of online learning discussions that students do post their perspectives; however, deep learning and constructivist learning rarely occurs. Kim and Bateman (2010) argued that educators need to be very careful in how a course is designed to promote in-depth learning. “Discussion questions requiring an in-depth understanding of the concepts were associated with more reflective and collaborative responses than reading comprehension questions” (Kim & Bateman, 2010, p.78).
Prescott, Wilson and Becket (2013) revealed that, although social software is useful for ‘informal learning’, it is rarely being used for ‘formal learning’. Prescott et al. (2013) commented that “the majority of students do not want Facebook used for formal learning” (p. 4). Likewise, Kabilan, Ahmad, and Abidin (2010) argued that formal learning requires more structure and clearer goals that may not be appropriate with social software platforms such as Facebook. Similarly, Madge, Meek, Wellers and Hooley (2009) revealed that students preferred to use Facebook for social connections and informal learning as opposed to formal teaching purposes.
The high cost of technology and lack of skills among educators and students may also limit the success of social software (Gosper, Malfroy & Mackenzie, 2013; Graya, Waycotta, Clerehanb, Hamilton, Richardsond, Shearde and Thompson, 2012). Gosper et al. (2013) explained how costs associated with upgrading advancing technologies must be weighed against prospective learning benefits to students. Likewise, Graya et al. (2012) noted that using Web 2.0 technologies put additional pressure on students and staff to be proficient not only with the software but also with the target material. “Compared to more conventional assignments, the extra efforts required to get students to work effectively with Web 2.0 may detract from the perceived worth of the activity” (Graya, 2012, p.5). Another constraint limiting the success of social software outlined by Saadatmand and Kumpulainen (2013) is that some academic institutions are reluctant to support true constructivist learning environments inspired by such software.
Badge, J. L., Sanders N. F. and Cann, A.J. (2012). Beyond marks: new tools to visualise student engagement via social networks. Research in Learning Technology Vol. 20, 2012
Blanche W. OBannon , Jennifer K. Lubke & Virginia G. Britt (2013). ‘You still need that face-to-face communication’: drawing implications from preservice teachers’ perceptions of wikis as a collaborative tool. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 22:2, 135-152.
Callaghan, N. and Bower, M. (2012) Learning through social networking sites – the critical role of the teacher. Educational Media International.49:1, 2012.p. 1-17.
Casey, G. (2013). Social Media in the Classroom: A Simple yet Complex Hybrid Environment for Students. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia (2013), 22 (1), 5-24.
Driscoll, K. (2007). "Collaboration In Today's Classroom: New Web Tools Change The Game." Multimedia & Internet and Schools, Vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 9-12.
Duffy, P. “Engaging the YouTube Google-Eyed Generation: Strategies for Using Web 2.0 in Teaching and Learning.” The Electronic Journal of e-Learning Volume 6 Issue 2, pp 119 – 130.
Ertmer, P.E., Newby, T. J., Liu, W. Tomory, A., Yu, J.H., and Lee, Y.M. (2011) Students’ confidence and perceived value for participating in cross-cultural wiki-based collaborations. Education Tech Research Development, 59:213–228
Friedman, A. M., & Heafner, T.L. (2007). You think for me, so I don’t have to. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 7(3), 199-216.
Garcia-Martin, J., & Garcia-Sanchez, J.N. (2013). Patterns of Web 2.0 tool use among young Spanish people. Computers & Education 67 105–120
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Heafner, T. & Friedman, A. (2008). Wikis and Constructivism in Secondary Social Studies: Fostering a Deeper Understanding. Computers in the Schools, Vol. 25(3-4) p. 288 to 302. 2008
Hossain, M. M., Weist, L.R. (2013). Collaborative Middle School Geometry Through Blogs and Other Web 2.0 Technologies. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching (2013) 32(3), 337-352
Kabilan, M. K., N. Ahmad, and M. J. Z. Abidin. (2010). Facebook: An Online Environment for Learning of English in Institutions of Higher Education? The Internet and Higher Education 13 (4): 179–187.
Kim, H.H., & Bateman, B.,(2010). Student Participation Patterns in Online Discussion: Incorporating Constructivist Discussion into Online Courses. International Journal on E-Learning (2010) 9 (1), 79-98
Madge, C., Meek, J., Wellens, J., & Hooley, T. (2009). Facebook, social integration and informal learning at university: ‘It is more for socialising and talking to friends about work than for actually doing work’, Learning, Media and Technology, 34:2, 141-155,
Prescott, Wilson & Becket (2013). Facebook use in the learning environment: do students want this?, Learning, Media and Technology.
Saadatmand, M., & Kumpulainen, K. (2013). Content Aggregation and Knowledge Sharing in a Personal Learning Environment: Serendipity in Open Online Networks. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (iJET) – Volume 8, Special Issue 1: "ICL2012", January (p. 70-78)
Stepanyan,K., Mather, R., & Dalrymple, R.(2013). Culture, role and group work: A social network analysis perspective on an online collaborative course. British Journal of Educational Technology. doi:10.1111/bjet.12076.
Wodzicki, K., Schwammlein, E.,Moskaliuk.,J. (2012). “Actually, I Wanted to Learn”: Study-related knowledge exchange on social networking sites. Internet and Higher Education 15 (2012) 9–14