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Report: Student Social Network Use Declines as Social Apps Move to Take Their Place

The number of students who maintain a profile on a social networking site has decreased by nearly 40 percent in the last five years according to a new report from Project Tomorrow. This year only 30 percent of middle school students (grades 6-8) and 39 percent of high school students (grades 9-10) told researchers they were actively using such a site.

According to the report, "The New Digital Playbook: Understanding the Spectrum of Students' Activities and Aspirations," "social media apps such as Instagram, Snapchat and Vine are filling in the void with participation by 44 percent of students in grades 6‐12." Twitter is also gaining ground, with 28 percent of responding high school students saying the use the microblogging platform.

Girls report using social tools for schoolwork more than boys. Among girls who self-identify as advanced technology users, 75 percent say they text with classmates as compared to only 66 percent of boys who identify as advanced users. Even girls who say they are average or beginner technology users say they text with classmates at a rate of 73 percent. Girls who identify as advanced users are also 8 percent more likely to report find that they find videos to help with schoolwork than similarly tech-savvy boys, 10 percent more likely to use Facebook to collaborate on schoolwork and 3 percent more likely to use Skype or iChat with classmates.

Girls who said they do not consider themselves to be advanced technology users as compared to their peers similarly reported higher use of social tools than boys who said they were average or beginning tech users.

Social tools are a forum for practicing writing skills for a significant number of students, though still a minority. Thirty-nine percent of girls and 30 percent of boys said they regularly write in instant messages or online chats. Thirty-six percent of girls and 26 percent of boys reported writing texts for social media sites. Girls and boys told researchers they blog at rates of 31 and 20 percent, respectively. Thirty one percent of girls and 22 percent of boys said they write for tweets, and 28 percent of boys said they write for in-game conversations, while 14 percent of girls said the same.

How students view their online footprint also varies along gender lines, with girls generally being more concerned with how they portray themselves online and through digital tools.

Fifty-two percent of girls said they are careful about posting and texting information about themselves and others as compared to only 41 percent of boys. At 34 percent, girls were 9 percent more likely than boys to tell researchers they've advised friends not to post information about themselves or others online. Girls were also more likely than boys to tell surveyors they had stopped interacting with someone because of their online profile, at 29 percent as compared to 20 percent. Girls agreed that "it is important to have a positive online profile" at a rate of 38 percent, 11 points higher than boys did. Both genders were equally likely, at 12 percent, to tell researchers that they "use digital footprints to find people to connect with."

Other findings of the report related to social technology include:

  • The number of middle- and high-school students who told researchers they text has increased 37 percent since 2008, to two-thirds;
  • More than a quarter, 28 percent, of middle schoolers surveyed said they create and post videos;
  • 12 percent of students surveyed said they have their own blog and one-quarter said they have favorites they follow;
  • 23 percent of middle school students reported regularly playing massively multiplayer online games (MMOG);
  • Middle school boys who identify as advanced tech users reported playing MMOGs at a rate of 42 percent, 16 percent more than similarly skilled girls;
  • Middle school boys who say they are advanced users are also more likely, at 44 percent, than their female peers, 37 percent, to say that MMOGs can teach people how to work in teams;
  • Tech-advanced boys were more likely to tell researchers that they've found an expert online to answer their questions than girls, at rates of 21 and 18 percent, respectively;
  • Thirty-five percent of middle school respondents and 39 percent of those in high school said that access to social media tools would improve technology use at school;
  • Twenty-eight percent of students in middle and high school said technology use at school would be improved by offering 24/7 access to their teachers;
  • Twenty-six percent of middle school students and 30 percent of high school students said technology use at school would be improved by offering online tutoring; and
  • Students were more likely than school principles, teachers and parents to say that social media tools are an important part of school technology. Parents were the least likely.

"In general, K‐12 students want greater alignment between their out of school learning and their in school learning," according to the report. "This often includes greater access to online sites, use of mobile devices and social media and digital tools that help to facilitate collaboration, communications and self‐organization."

Part of Project Tomorrow's annual Speak Up survey, the report is based on responses from 325,279 students from more than 9,000 schools and 2,700 districts across the United States. Since its inaugural year in 2003, the Speak Up survey has polled approximately 3.4 million students, teachers, administrators and parents to get their views on ed tech.

Coverage of the report's findings regarding mobile technology is available at thejournal.com. Visit tomorrow.org to view the full report.

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