Study: Social networks may subvert 'digital divide'

New research suggests that social-networking sites build valuable technological and communication skills, and that low-income students are picking up those skills too.

Social networks like Facebook and MySpace have reputations as time-sucking procrastination tools, but a new study from the University of Minnesota says au contraire.

Social networks build beneficial technological, creative, and communication skills, the study says, leading the researchers to actually describe social networks with the adjective "educational." Who knew?

"What we found was that students using social networking sites are actually practicing the kinds of 21st century skills we want them to develop to be successful today," Christine Greenhow, a learning technologies researcher from the school's College of Education and Human Development, said in a release Friday.

Data from the study came from teenagers ages 16 to 18 in about a dozen urban high schools in the Midwest.

"Students are developing a positive attitude towards using technology systems, editing and customizing content and thinking about online design and layout," Greenhow continued. "They're also sharing creative original work like poetry and film and practicing safe and responsible use of information and technology."

As an added bonus, social networks may be part of the reason that low-income students are largely just as technologically proficient as their peers, contradicting parts of a 2005 Pew study that detailed an economic "digital divide." According to the new study, a full 94 percent of students use the Internet, 82 percent use it at home, and 77 percent have social-networking profiles.

The "digital divide," obviously, goes far beyond Facebook profiles, and social networks come with a whole host of new problems like cyberbullying , but at least there are signs that it could be leveling the playing field a bit.

 

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