Educational and Social Benefits of Social Network Sites: Applications to Human Services Education and Practice

Educational and Social Benefits of Social Network Sites: Applications to Human Services Education and Practice

Christine Greenhow (University of Minnesota, USA) and Beth Robelia (University of Minnesota, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-735-5.ch002
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Online social network sites present opportunities for human service educators, practitioners, and clients. Human services education students can collaborate through multimedia networks, sharing ideas and experiences. Human services professionals can leverage online networks to problem solve, socialize and develop common resources, and clients can use such networks to engage in self-reflection and get support from those facing similar challenges. This chapter offers an introduction to online social network sites, summarizing their features, uses, demographics, and trends, and presents emerging research on their social and educational potential. An accompanying case study reveals how young adults might use online social network sites to further personal and educational goals. The chapter concludes with a discussion of how such sites might be employed by human services education students, practitioners and clients.
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‘In education there should be no class distinction’.

Confucius (K’ung Fu tzu 551-479 BC), Analects, ch.15, v.38 in Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (2004, p.238:8).



This opening vignette describes some of the many ways young people participate in online social network sites (SNSs). Emilio (a psuedonym) was a shy, soft-spoken eighteen year old who had a few close friends at university. Within MySpace (, however, Emilio had a large network of friends, acquaintances, and contacts from within and outside his local community. His MySpace profile contained videos and photos he had created and posted to share. Often portrayed in the media as dangerous or distracting (Hass, 2006; Rowan, 2007), many young people are actually making important, positive connections through their use of online social network sites. They find emotional support, get help with school work, relax, socialize and flourish in using this outlet for their creativity.

The purpose of this chapter is to explore the social and educational benefits of online social network sites and the implications of social network site affordances for human services education and practice. The unique features of today’s social network sites will be discussed in relation to other forms of virtual communities. The chapter will present theoretical foundations, application of social network site features to education and ways in which the competencies users demonstrate in social network sites can have educational benefits and enhance learners’ experience. Moreover, a case study of one students’ use of an online social network will be provided for tertiary social work students who seek to consider the potential application of this information communication technology for human services education and practice. This case study may also be useful for researchers in the field of information communication technology and human computer interaction in various disciplines who seek to describe and illuminate online social networking practices.

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