Researchers at the University of Minnesota have suggested that social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook can have educational benefits for students.
The researchers collected data from 16 to 18 year-old students in 13 urban high schools in the Midwest over six months.
Some 94 per cent of the students observed use the internet, 82 per cent go online at home and 77 per cent had a profile on a social networking site.
When asked what they learn by using social networking sites, the students listed 'technology skills', followed by 'creativity', being 'open to new or diverse views' and 'communication skills'.
"Students using social networking sites are practising the kinds of 21st century skills we want them to develop to be successful today," said Christine Greenhow, principal investigator of the study and a learning technologies researcher at Minnesota's College of Education and Human Development.
"Students are developing a positive attitude towards using technology systems, editing and customising content and thinking about online design and layout.
"They are also sharing creative original work like poetry and film and practising safe and responsible use of information and technology. The websites offer tremendous educational potential."
Greenhow claimed that the results also show that social networking sites have implications for educators, who now have a vast opportunity to support what students are learning online.
"Now that we know what skills students are learning and what experiences they are being exposed to, we can help foster and extend those skills," she said.
"As educators, we always want to know where our students are coming from and what they are interested in so we can build on that in our teaching.
"By understanding how students may be using these networking technologies in their daily lives, and where the as yet unrecognised educational opportunities are, we can help make schools even more relevant, connected and meaningful to kids."
However, the researchers also found that most students appear to be oblivious to the academic and professional opportunities that social networking sites can provide.
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