Facebook, widely regarded as the most popular social networking sites among students, is created to connect users. It allows people to customize their profiles with personal information such as pictures, relationships and personal interests. What’s more, all Facebook users from a common region or users who list a certain movie or music as a favourite form a group.
Under user profiles, each of these portions of information constitutes a link. When a user clicks on one of these links, it shows information of other users in the network that incorporated that aspect in their profiles. Other links are further structured around user-created clusters that usually depict expressive labels such as name of a fraternity or feminism is fun (Educause Learning Initiative 2006, p. 1).
Concerns have emerged regarding the risks posed by Facebook. In some cases, the profiles posted in Facebook do not represent the people behind them. For instance, the urge to gain online popularity may entice some Facebook users to post awkward pictures or data that would otherwise be kept confidential in a different context.
Although many students know how to conceal private information from the public sphere, some lack the prudence to depict themselves properly online. In some cases, students may get in trouble regarding photos and comments they post about themselves. In addition, libel and copyright issues may surface when students make inappropriate comments about others or infringe on intellectual property rights of other people.
This problem is aggravated by internet caching whereby web content may be accessible even after it has been altered or eradicated from a web site. Addiction is also common among some users who spent many hours daily searching for friends or updating their profiles.
An apparently infinite web of links, nevertheless, creates a risk for endless roving, seeing who likes what, who knows who, and how it all integrate, without any precise objective in mind (Educause Learning Initiative 2006, p. 2).
Case Study Analysis
During the next semester, Angela plans to visit Hungary and study at a university in Budapest. She aspires to gain more information about Hungary before departing. Angela has a Facebook account but she has not updated her profile because she does not use Facebook regularly.
Since Angela attends a somewhat small college with limited resources for students who aspire to study overseas, she resolves to learn more about Hungary from other Facebook users. Angela begins by updating her Facebook profile with information about her major and the impending semester in Budapest. She links up with some Facebook groups related to international student exchange programs.
Angela uses these groups to locate students at her own college who have previously studied overseas. By communicating with members of these communities, Angela is able to gain immense information about various aspects of overseas studies that she would otherwise find hard to acquire using conventional means. Angela looks for Facebook users with Budapest in their profiles and discovers several students from that region.
From their viewpoints, she learns a lot about the past and present political climate of Hungary. Angela then uses this information to carry out Facebook searches focussing on European culture and politics in general (Educause Learning Initiative 2006, p. 1).
The Facebook profile of Angela becomes more and more detailed as the weeks progress. Angela then creates new online groups, one of which grows rapidly with over 200 members. Several frequent Facebook users communicate with Angela on a regular basis to update her with new information about Budapest.
By the time Angela travels to Hungary, she has a wealth of knowledge about the local weather, culture, restaurants as well as her expectation with respect to the study-abroad program.
What’s more, Angela has made online friendships with some students from other universities who will spend their next semester in Hungary. Angela makes plan to meet them for lunch in Budapest during the first week of her arrival (Educause Learning Initiative 2006, p. 1).
Several deductions can be made with respect to the scenario presented above. Facebook offers a refined profiling system that enables users to generate detailed data regarding themselves. Profiles usually entail sharing data such as personal interest, location, age, pictures and extra details under the ‘About me’ section.
The moment a profile is generated, a user can then be considered as a member of the online community and has access to information shared within the group (Harrison & Thomas 2009, p. 111). Angela gained immense information about Budapest by establishing several online contacts with students with knowledge about Budapest.
Since she included information about her impending travel to Budapest in her profile, many of her online friends updated her with vital information about the country. In addition, she gained more information from the online communities she created by studying the perspectives of other students who had visited Hungary before.
Social networking is based on the concept that there exists a determinable structure that defines ways in which people relate with others (Churchill & Halverson 2005, p.14). A recent study involving participants from 16 developed countries reported that adults spend about 33% of their free time online, have subscribed to at least two social networking sites and keep regular contact with 16 online friends (Harrison & Thomas 2009, p. 109).
Whereas the popularity of online sites in the U.S. and most European nations is about 30%, this figure is surpassed by far by digital natives in Asia. For example, the fascination with social networking sites (SNSs) in Japan, Korea and China is 40% given that most Asian countries are culturally ensnared by virtual worlds, online gaming, SNSs and blogs.
The attractiveness of SNSs such as MySpace and Facebook reveals the addictive nature of online communities across cultures and generations, especially their attraction to students (Harrison & Thomas 2009, p. 109).
Tsu Ying and Yu Qing reside and study in the U.S as emigrants. Both girls were keen to learn English but encountered problems communicating with English speakers at the school.
Although Tsu Ying and Yu Qing wanted to learn how to speak English, they had limited prospects to network with their peers in English as a result of segregation at school. In addition, the girls felt marginalized by their English-speaking peers. Both girls began using internet during their leisure time. They soon discovered that they could use SNSs to learn and improve their English proficiency.
They opted to join the internet site (HK chart room) to make new friends as well as learn English because it offered them a safer environment to learn and practice English. Tsu Ying and Yu Qing opted to join the social networking site in order to make new online friends and learn more about English.
In addition, both girls used about three hours daily and most of the weekends communicating with friends in the HK chartroom (Lam 2004, p.50).
Tsu Ying and Yu Qing felt more secure learning English after they joined the HK chat room. This is because the girls had a rather easier time to start and sustain a chat without fretting about the grammatical errors they made. Although both girls were competent enough to communicate with their peers in English, they felt shy doing so, especially at school.
Nevertheless, Tsu Ying and Yu Qing would freely chat with their online friends using English since the chat room offered them the confidence to not only share their knowledge and limited experience of English with their online peers but also learn from others. Prior to joining the HK chat room, the girls felt embarrassed to speak English before their peers at school because their English grammar and articulation was very poor.
As a result of regular interaction with their English-speaking friends via the HK chat room, they were able to speak English fluently. In addition, they stated that the social networking site enabled them to improve their fluency in English language (Lam 2004, p. 51; Harrison & Thomas 2009, p. 111).
In light of the language learning experience of Tsu Ying and Yu Qing discussed above, it is important for teachers as well as students appreciate the apparent significant role played by social networking sites in enhancing the process of language acquisition among students. It appears that social networking sites can be used as effective educational tools in learning a foreign language.
As we take part in macro-investigation of the hegemonic and neo-colonial influence of English as a universal language to deconstruct the well-liked discussion about the spread of English as a politically and culturally nonaligned and eventually benevolent language, we must also lend credence to the ethnographic assessment on the manner in which English language is practised in various social networking sites.
When evaluated with respect to the supremacy of English in various national backdrops, the universal practice of English via social networking sites may provide alternatives ways for individuals to explore and learn the English language (Lam 2004, p.59).
The importance of SNSs in enhancing the process of Language Learning
It is important to note that social affiliations are undergoing a progressive transformation in the wake of globalization epoch. Social networking sites have facilitated close interactions between students from different countries who are able to share their learning experiences with online friends.
It goes without saying that this forms of online affiliations (that rise above geographical borders) are growing rapidly as more students opt to use social networking sites (i.e. Facebook and HK chat room) for exploring and learning new language.
As a result, a number of scholars in the educational sphere have lend credence to the importance of studying the forms of online affiliations college students develop in their quest to acquire knowledge about foreign cultures, particularly learning new language.
For instance, Lam (2004) asserts that the world is filled with a profound sense personal attachment and interest due to the high prevalence of social networking sites as well as cultural groups that transcend national frontiers (p. 45).
No one can dispute the apparent role of social networking sites in the contemporary era. To illustrate this point, Dwyer et al., (2007) states SNSs are a form of virtual community that has achieved incredible fame in the recent past (p. 2). MySpace, a social networking site, is ranked sixth in terms of overall web interchange with over 45 million distinctive US visitors every month.
On the other hand, Facebook, a social networking site commonly used by college students, has 15 million new US visitors every month. The SNSs are used by members for a variety of reasons.
The main impetus for many users of social networking sites is communication and sustaining relationships. However, as discussed above, some people join social networking sites to gain information about foreign cultures as well as learn new languages (Dwyer et al., 2007, p. 2).
Social constructivism offers a theoretical construction as well as the vital concepts required to comprehend the intricate layers of relationships that take place when people use social networking sites to learn language.
A number of learning psychologies have been developed in a logical outline of social constructivism to offer researchers and teachers a way of comprehending the process of learning and teaching via social networking sites (Harrison & Thomas 2009, p. 114).
Numerous studies have revealed that social networking sites such as Facebook and HK chat room can transform the language learning process by offering an atmosphere that permits novel avenues of active learning.
These social networking sites provides a captivating insight into some of these points of renegotiation and conflict, especially between the role of learners and teachers to mediate and direct the process of language learning in networked communities. As a result, the personal learning environments of social networking sites endow language teachers with an ability to study the contemporary theories of learning.
It also enables them to acquire precious knowledge about the manner in which language learning is taking place in the novel era of digital literacy as well as the deconstruction of conventional classrooms that it dictates (Harrison & Thomas 2009, p. 121).
Churchill, E & Halverson, C 2005, ‘Social Networks and Social Networking’, IEEE Internet Computing, pp. 14-19.
Dwyer, C, Hiltz, S, & Passerini, K 2007, Proceedings of the Thirteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems, August 9-12, 2007: Trust and Privacy Concerns within Social Networking Sites: A Comparison of Facebook and MySpace. Association for Information Systems., Colorado.
Educause Learning Initiative 2006, 7 things you should know about Facebook. Web.
Harrison, R & Thomas, M 2009, ‘Identity in Online Communities: Social Networking Sites and Language Learning’, International Journal of Emerging Technologies & Society, vol. 7 no. 2, pp. 109-124.
Lam, W 2004, ‘Second Language Socialization in a Bilingual Chat Room: Global and Local Considerations’, Language learning & Technology, vol. 8 no. 3, pp. 44-65.