Sociality Through Social Network Sites

Introduction to the Research Topic

Social media has become an integral part of many people’s lives. For generation Z, social media is of particular importance, since members of this group engage with social media more than other generations (Turner, 2015). They are also more proficient in the use of social media, or net savvy, which means that they can use this technology in a way other people cannot (Greenhow & Lewin, 2018). Young people’s interest in technology and their proficient use of it creates opportunities for including social media in classroom learning. The research focuses on the topic of social media use in classroom learning and students’ perceptions towards it.

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Key Definition Items

Web 2.0: refers to the technological phenomenon which created possibilities for the formation of online communities and the use of online platforms for interaction, communication, and collaboration (Ellison & Boyd, 2013). The term was initially coined to describe shifts in the online software market following the development and increasing popularity of social media sites (Ellison & Boyd, 2013).

Social Media: is defined as a set of online technologies, applications, and tools that enable the creation of online communities aimed at productive collaboration and communication (Goff, 2013). Contemporary social media was built on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but Web 2.0 describes the general phenomenon, whereas the term “social media” defines the technology that resulted from it (Ellison & Boyd, 2013).

Net Generation – Net Savvy: are used to identify persons who are proficient in the use of technology and engage with it on a daily basis (Turner, 2015). The term focuses in particular on the use of online technologies, smartphones, and computers.

Social Networking Sites (SNS): are defined as web-based tools and services enabling individuals to construct a personal profile, compose friend lists, and communicate with people through on-site features (McIntyre, 2014). The features of social networking sites usually include private messages, photo and video sharing, groups, posts, and comments (Gebicka & Heinemann, 2014).

Rationale

There are two main reasons for the importance of the topic: the increased use of social media by young adults and the information exchange capacity of social media. First of all, it is essential to understand the prominent role that social media plays in the life of children and teenagers in the contemporary world. According to a recent study by Primack et al. (2017), the vast majority of young adults in the United States – about 90% – use social media platforms daily. The young age is also associated with the use of different social media platforms.

There is a sound body of research confirming that many young persons use two or more social media platforms actively each day. Primack et al. (2017) report that the prevalence of the use of multiple social platforms has grown by 10% between 2013 and 2014 and that in 2016, the mean number of social media platforms used by young adults was 4.2. While these results reflect social media preferences of young adults, other authors suggest that the use of social media is even more prevalent among teenagers. For instance, Turner (2015) found that for nearly 60% of generation Z participants, social media was the center of social life and that in general, members of this generation spent more time on social media than on any other activity besides sleeping. This means that the development of social media has influenced the communication and life patterns of young people, making them more invested in online technology than people of other ages.

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Secondly, based on the definition of social media, it involves a strong focus on productive collaboration enabled by online software features. This implies a significant capacity for information exchange through social media. This idea is manifested in how people use social media today. Yen (2016) shows that knowledge exchange is a primary feature of virtual communities built on social networking sites, and thus, users share and receive knowledge from social media daily. Many young people also use social media as a primary source of news, replacing television and newspapers with Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and other SNS (Ellison & Boyd, 2013). Hence, social media has a significant capacity for knowledge exchange, and most people already use social media to share and receive information.

The information above allows suggesting that using social media for learning would be welcome by students and that social media has the necessary capacity to facilitate learning through knowledge-sharing. However, past research studies mostly focused on the feasibility of social media learning and its effectiveness. For example, research by Alwagait, Shazad, and Alim (2015) and Mao (2014) focused on the results of social media learning with regards to engagement, participation, and academic studies. Because the need for involving social media in education comes from the change in students’ needs and behaviors, it is also essential to take into account students’ perceptions of social media learning. This study will seek to focus on students’ views, attitudes, and opinions, thus contributing to the body of research on the topic and filling in the gaps. The results of the study will provide insights for future trials of social media learning, as well as practical information that can be used by educators seeking to integrate social media into classroom learning.

Theoretical and Conceptual Framework

Connectivism is a relatively new learning theory that was coined in response to changes in communication that took place after the development of social media (Evans, 2014). The theory was invented by George Siemens in 2005, prompting a number of research studies and theoretical works that established its relevance in the modern context. The fundamental premise of the theory of connectivism is that the traditional approaches to learning – behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism – focus on the individualistic idea of learning, whereas in the contemporary world, people have become more interconnected than ever before (Evans, 2014). Although the theory focuses on online learning, it can also be applied to learning that occurs in real life communication because it emphasizes the process of knowledge exchange between people.

The critical concept in connectivism is knowledge, which, according to this theory, is distributed through a network of connections between people (Duke, Harper, & Johnston, 2013). The term “network”, in this case, describes the interconnectedness of people in communities, including online communities, rather than online networks (Evans, 2014). The primary determinant of learning is thus is the individual’s ability to construct these knowledge exchange networks and use them for obtaining new information (Duke et al., 2013). The learning process, in turn, lies in improving individuals’ ability to form information exchange networks with other people and using them to enhance the personal state of knowledge. Based on the principles of connectivism, knowledge exchange networks – both online and in real life – should possess four key characteristics: diversity, the autonomy of participants, openness, and connectivity (Goldie, 2016). Communities or groups that have these features promote meaningful learning by enabling individuals to interact with one another, thus sharing and receiving information.

The chosen theory helps in conceptualizing the topic of social media and its use in classroom learning. First of all, it allows viewing social media as a network of connections, thus explaining why many people today use social media for knowledge exchange. Based on the theory, social media communities are an excellent network for learning because they possess all of the characteristics outlined above. The diversity of social media users is unprecedented because the Internet allows people from all over the world to interact while remaining autonomous. Openness is also a relevant characteristic because young people tend to be more open on social media than in daily life. For example, Turner (2015) noted that the majority of adolescents felt that it was easier for them to communicate online than in person. Lastly, connectivity is the primary feature of social media that is supported by its functions and features.

Secondly, the theory allows focusing on the process of social media learning, thus also contributing to the conceptual framework of the study. By this theory, there are three primary processes involved in learning: the establishment of a network of connections, the exchange of information, and the processing and application of this information in life (Goldie, 2016). For example, when a person interacts with someone online or in real life, explores their viewpoint, and applies new information in decision-making, this constitutes a process of social media learning. The improved understanding of the topic supported by the learning theory of connectivism allows formulating specific research questions to focus on throughout the study:

  1. What are the perceptions of students toward the use of social media as a learning tool?
  2. Do students perceive that the use of social media tools for classroom instruction creates a distraction for students as they learn?

The first question will help to explore whether or not students believe that the process of social media learning, as represented in connectivism, is applicable in classroom learning. The second question focuses on whether or not there is a conflict between social media learning and classroom learning, causing students to lose their focus. The answers to both questions will contribute to the current understanding of social media learning and thus have important practical implications for educators.

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References

Alwagait, E., Shahzad, B., & Alim, S. (2015). Impact of social media usage on students academic performance in Saudi Arabia. Computers in Human Behavior, 51, 1092-1097.

Ellison, N. B., & Boyd, D. M. (2013). Sociality through social network sites. In W. H. Dutton (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of internet studies (pp. 151–172). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press

Duke, B., Harper, G., & Johnston, M. (2013). Connectivism as a digital age learning theory. The International HETL Review, 2013(Special Issue), 4-13.

Gebicka, A., & Heinemann, A. (2014). Social media & competition law. World Competition, 37(2), 149-172.

Goff, D. H. (2013). A history of social media industries. In A. B. Albarran (Ed.), The social media industries (pp. 16-45). New York, NY: Routledge.

Greenhow, C., & Lewin, C. (2016). Social media and education: Reconceptualizing the boundaries of formal and informal learning. Learning, Media and Technology, 41(1), 6-30.

Mao, J. (2014). Social media for learning: A mixed methods study on high school students’ technology affordances and perspectives. Computers in Human Behavior, 33, 213-223.

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McIntyre, K. E. (2014). The evolution of social media from 1969 to 2013: A change in competition and a trend toward complementary, niche sites. The Journal of Social Media in Society, 3(2), 5-25.

Primack, B. A., Shensa, A., Escobar-Viera, C. G., Barrett, E. L., Sidani, J. E., Colditz, J. B., & James, A. E. (2017). Use of multiple social media platforms and symptoms of depression and anxiety: A nationally-representative study among US young adults. Computers in Human Behavior, 69, 1-9.

Turner, A. (2015). Generation Z: Technology and social interest. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 71(2), 103-113.

Yen, C. (2016). How to unite the power of the masses? Exploring collective stickiness intention in social network sites from the perspective of knowledge sharing. Behaviour & Information Technology, 35(2), 118-133.

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