For some college students, social networking sites (SNS) such as Facebook and MySpace have become their principal means of communication. Many have lessened or completely relinquished usage of their school and personal e-mail addresses. Others have installed these sites' mobile features so that they can constantly be in touch with their online networks.
Recognizing this phenomenon, colleges and universities have started thinking about how to harness the connective power of SNS to further engage students in academic life. Likewise, higher education recruiters have begun to follow their college's lead. Many are finding that prospective students are using these networks in addition to searching campus Web sites. As such, recruitment measures include using SNS to "e-recruit" students. Recent studies are even showing that professors are using social networking sites like these to assist in negotiating the teacher-student relationships. Yet, at many colleges and universities, administrators and faculty still wonder whether they should embrace SNS as a pedagogical tool. Some wonder whether these sites will really live up to the promise of helping them create community in the classroom and improve student retention rates.
There are paradigmatic advantages and drawbacks to consider. First, differential use of technology by different types of students has led to questions about purposeful and effective uses of information technology in higher education practices, including technology use and engagement; and fostering student and faculty collaboration and contact. One potential benefit of using SNS is the impact of their active-learning features on low-income, minority and first-generation students.
A recent study by the University of Minnesota found that low-income students are just as technologically proficient as their counterparts and credit SNS for teaching them technology skills, as well as creativity, and providing exposure to diverse views. Additionally, a 2007 survey conducted by marketing firms Noel-Levitz and James Tower, and the National Research Center for College and University Admissions (NRCCUA) found that Black students expressed a preference for electronic communication and greater interest in using social networking to interact with colleges and make enrollment decisions compared to their White counterparts.
Second, SNS have become such a pervasive element in our students' lives that they have restructured social practices within academic environments. A growing number of studies of social patterns among college students shows that SNS have become the common denominator among those who are actively engaged with college faculty and staff. …