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Social networking sites within Higher Education - threat or opportunity?

This paper was presented at the 2008 Engineering Conference - Innovation Good Practice and Research in Engineering Education.

Social networking sites on the Internet have rapidly become a major force in the lives of young people today. These sites in the wider domain allow the opportunity for students to communicate with a wider network of people whereas similar facilities within the virtual learning environments developed by higher education institutions only allow for a much narrower social grouping and interaction.

At a time where widening access to higher education and promoting lifelong learning have been expressed as government educational objectives questions arise as to the benefits or otherwise of social networking sites to students staff and higher education institutions not just in pedagogic terms but also in engagement with the students in their own space. Should we see the development of social networking sites as a threat or an opportunity?

The social networking facilities provided by systems available within and external to higher education systems will be reviewed. A case study of the use of social networking within an in house virtual learning environment will be contrasted with the use of an external social networking site. The issues arising from the use of these facilities will be discussed and an attempt made to answer some of the questions arising and make recommendations for the use of social networking systems within higher education.

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