Collaboration | Research

More Educators Joining Online Social Networks

The number of educators who participate in online social networks has increased 34 percent since 2009, according to new research, with 82 percent now belonging to social networks compared to 61 percent in 2009. Librarians have the highest rate of participation in online social networks, followed by teachers, and then principals.

The report, "A Survey of K-12 Educators on Social Networking, Online Communities, and Web 2.0 Tools 2012," is a follow-up of a previous study in 2009. The survey was conducted in September 2012 by MMS Education and sponsored by edWeb.net and MCH Strategic Data. Respondents included 694 teachers, principals, and librarians from across the country.

The most common social network that educators have joined is Facebook, but other social networks are growing in popularity. However, the survey found that many educators are concerned about privacy and professionalism on general social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn. Many are turning to education-focused social networks, instead, such as edmodo, Classroom 2.0, and edWeb.net. When educators belong to general social networks, they often keep separate accounts for personal and professional networks because they are concerned about jeopardizing their jobs. However, educators find online social networks valuable for connecting with family and friends, collaborating with other educators, and sharing educational resources.

Social networks aren't the only type of online community that educators are joining, however. The survey found a high rate of participation in many proprietary online communities from education product or service providers and nonprofit organizations. The most popular of these, according to the survey, is Discover Education Network, with 52 percent of survey respondents as members. Other popular proprietary communities included BrainPOP Educators with 30 percent of respondents as members, Edutopia with 29 percent, and PBS Teachers and Moodle, both with 27 percent.

The survey also found that educators are using Web 2.0 tools, such as blogs, wikis, webinars, and sharing services, to connect with each other online. Of these, webinars are the tool that educators use most for professional purposes, and document sharing is tool most used in the classroom. However, educators are using Web 2.0 tools "more for professional collaboration than for instructional purposes in the classroom," according to the report.

Thirty percent of survey respondents reported that their Internet access was excellent; 45 said theirs was good; and 4 percent said it was poor. However, in the survey comments, many respondents expressed frustration about restricted Internet access at their schools. Roughly half of schools surveyed allow students to bring their own devices to school, but almost all of them have BYOD policies that restrict usage.

Other key findings of the report:

  • Librarians have the highest level of participation in online social networking sites, with 89 percent participation;
  • Membership levels in social networks is higher for younger educators, with 97 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds and 75 percent of those above age 55;
  • Although fewer educators above age 55 belong to social networks, the survey found that those in that age group were "definitely on board with this new technology;"
  • Women have slightly higher rates of participation in social networks than men;
  • There was no significant difference in social network participation by grade level taught; and
  • There was very little difference in social network participation rates between urban, suburban, and rural groups, whereas suburban groups had higher rates of participation in the 2009 survey.

The report was conducted as part of edWeb's participation in the United States Department of Education's Connected Educator Month, which took place in August 2012. The goal of the survey was to see how educator participation in online social networks had changed since the last survey in 2009. "Based on the comments we received, educators need more training and support to move forward faster," said Lisa Schmucki, founder and CEO of edWeb.net, in a prepared statement. "We have a long way to go to open up access to these kinds of sites for students in the classroom."

The complete report, "A Survey of K-12 Educators on Social Networking, Online Communities, and Web 2.0 Tools 2012," is available on the edWeb.net site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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