Frequenting community platforms is a way for students to learn many skills.

It is sometimes said that social networks on the Internet only serve to provide a semblance of a social life for people who are ill-suited in real life. A study conducted by researchers in educational technology at the University of Minnesota shows that they can be great educational tools. American high school students between 16 and 18 years old were observed and questioned for six months about their relationship with the Internet. Nearly all of them said they use the Internet. More than 80% said they go online from home and three quarters have a profile on a social network like MySpace, Facebook or other discussion forums. And to the question: what do you get out of using these sites? The main answer is the acquisition of technological skills. Other motivations cited include creativity, being open to new things and different opinions.

Skills needed in the 21st century

We found that students who use social networks are acquiring precisely the kind of skills that are expected of them in the 21st century in order to succeed,” explains Christine G., one of the survey’s principal investigators. Thanks to community networks, these teenagers are indeed developing a significant technological know-how : downloading but also editing and modifying content. It is now up to parents and educators to seize the educational potential of community sites. According to Christine Greenhow, “Now that we know what skills students are learning on the Internet, we need to encourage and help them to develop them. Teenagers are not always aware that they are developing such skills that can be useful both academically and professionally”.

Bridging the digital divide between social backgrounds

It is often thought that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less technologically proficient than those from higher backgrounds. A 2005 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project described the existence of a “digital divide” between students from more and less advantaged social backgrounds. According to that earlier survey, only three-quarters of American teens from low-income families used the Internet. The results of the University of Minnesota study show that this proportion is actually higher and that the difference in technological skills from one social background to another is less contrasted. According to Christine Greenhow, “students from fashionable backgrounds