Computer Mediated Communication: Social Support for Students with and without Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

Introduction

For the last decade, we have witnessed a substantial increase in both the use of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) and in the growth of social and emotional support amongst users of the different interfaces. The internet and CMC interfaces represent new methods of personal communications. Unlike 'face-to-face' relationships, geographical location is insignificant in this medium. The level of intimacy is determined by the length of time spent in the same chat room, forum, mailing list or website (Daum, 2007). Many studies have investigated the influences of the internet on peoples' daily lives and on their social relationships (Cogat, Yamauchi, and Suman, 2002; Nie and Hillygus, 2002; Segerstad, 2002), but most of the studies referred to general use of the internet and not to the impact of the various interfaces in creating social and emotional relationships.

Computer mediated communication

The past decade has seen the rise of an alternative method of social support involving CMC interfaces, which include e-mail, chat, virtual communities, instant messaging (IM), text messaging (SMS), web pages etc. Social support is an integral part of a person's environmental relationships and this has a significant influence on their quality of life.

This study seeks to examine the differences in the use of four interfaces--e-mail, SMS, IM, and chat--to relay messages of social support amongst students. Researchers reported that CMC was used primarily for interpersonal communications with family and friends. These interfaces have increased the users' social involvement (Kraut, 2002; Shoklovski, Kraut, and Rainie, 2004), assisted them in maintaining contact with family and friends, and expanded their social network (Howard, Rainie, and Jones, 2002; Schiano et al., 2002). These interfaces have been especially effective in maintaining relationships amongst students (Cummings, Lee, and Kraut, 2006). An additional common interface is the mobile phone, which has led to changes in interaction patterns between social groups, as it enables intimate and direct communications at all times of the day, from anywhere, between members of a social network (Ling, 2004). A survey on the extent of digital media usage--internet, messaging, and SMS--was conducted by the World Health Organization amongst youth in 41 countries. Youth in Israel was ranked fourth in the world in use of digital media (HBSC, 2008). High use of IM and SMS in relaying social support messages, in comparison to e-mail and chat, was reported in a study that examined CMC usage patterns amongst teenagers. It was found that girls preferred IM and SMS interfaces and were more inclined towards social support-type communications (Daom, 2007).

Learning disabilities and computerized technology

The current study addressed the population of students with learning disabilities (LD). The term learning disabilities refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, and/or mathematical abilities (National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1989). Similar to this definition and criteria, the Israeli Ministry of Education has defined learning disability, and students are usually identified as having an LD prior to their higher education studies. To be diagnosed, they will have obtained a Full Scale score of 85 or above on the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (WASI; Wechsler, 1991). In addition, individuals with LD must show significant difficulties in the acquisition and application of one or more of the following subjects: reading, writing, inference and mathematical ability, quantitative concepts, memory, and attention span, equivalent to standard scores of 80 or below on one or more of the Spelling, Arithmetic, and Reading subtests of the achievement test of the Wide Range Achievement Test --third edition (WRAT3; Wilkinson, 1993). …