The use of social networks associated with increased computer literacy skills in adolescents

It's a widely held view that adolescents spend far too much time communicating with peers on their smartphones. However, new research published in Large-Scale Assessments in Education could help ease parents' concerns as it finds a strong positive relationship between students’ computer and information literacy proficiency levels and the frequency of their use of electronic devices for social communication.

This blog can also be read on SpringerOpen

Being a mother of two teenagers, I always worried that my kids spend too much time with their smartphones on WhatsApp or Snapchat, exchanging messages with their peers and friends. However, when confronted on this behaviour, they argue this is the way to communicate in the 21st century and they would actually acquire skills needed in a modern world along the way.

So I started to wonder: are they right? Does the frequent use of internet-based technologies like messaging or social networks increase one’s information and computer literacy skills?

Indeed, the results suggest a strong positive relationship between students’ computer and information literacy proficiency level and the frequency of their use of electronic devices for social communication.

I work for the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), which conducted a large-scale cross-national comparative study covering this topic in 2013: the International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS). Together with a colleague from Turkey with similar interests, we analysed the data and were surprised by the outcomes.

Indeed, the results suggest a strong positive relationship between students’ computer and information literacy proficiency level and the frequency of their use of electronic devices for social communication.

Now we wondered whether this relationship is rather a reflection of the fact that girls and/or students with higher socio-economic status (SES) background use social messaging more frequently, and have generally higher achievement. Hence, we controlled in our statistical models for these effects. However, the previously observed relationships still held true in all participating countries.

After retrieving this evidence, I am a little more relaxed when checking on my kids with regards to their use of electronic devices. I even think these findings bear some important messages for other parents, and also teachers, principals and policy makers. Students should not be expected to accomplish high skills in using technology without using it. Rather, it is worth exploring the additional learning opportunities arising from electronic tools and media outside of schools, as well as inside.

Utilizing social media for teaching may hold the potential to increase respective skills for all students independently from their gender and SES backgrounds; and thereby avoid excluding those students with limited access to ICT who may increasingly lack opportunities to actively participate in the modern society. As messaging and social networks became an increasingly large part of students’ daily life; It is our responsibility as parents, teachers and educators to help our children to use them in beneficial ways.

Politicians however also need to attend to their responsibilities to make that happen. As another interesting paper by Julia Gerick et al. suggests, various school factors such as the availability of pedagogical IT support or professional development activities of teaching staff in this area play a role here as well. If teachers are not self-efficient to use ICT one can hardly assume they use it for teaching.

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