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Net generation students and their use of social software:

assessing impacts on information literacy skills and

learning at a laptop university


Gabor Feuer

A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements

for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Department of Theory and Policy Studies
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
University of Toronto

© Copyright by Gabor Feuer (2009)

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Net generation students and their use of social software:
assessing impacts on information literacy skills and
learning at a laptop university
Doctor of Philosophy 2009
Gabor Feuer
Department of Theory and Policy Studies
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
University of Toronto

Social Software is potentially a disruptive technology in Higher Education, because it

proposes changing the instructional paradigm from a formal, structured curriculum based model

to a more open, informal, borderless learning model.

The purpose of this study was to explore this potential in the context of participating Net

Generation students in a technology oriented, laptop based university located in southern

Ontario. Net Generation students, are broadly characterized as the first digitally native generation

who grew up with information and communication technologies, and that they demand more

technology in all aspects of their lives. The study was interested in the efficacy and pedagogical

impact of social software technologies to support students’ learning experience.

The review of the literature highlighted the paucity of empirical studies examining the

utility and value of these software in the higher education environment. This dissertation

explored the participating students’ views and attitudes regarding SSW, their behaviours

regarding the adoption of these tools in the learning environment, and the effects of SSW in their

performance as measured by information literacy test scores and students’ perceptions of their


The study used a quantitative method, employing questionnaires and a quasi-

experimental design to answer the research questions. A total of eighty students participated, 24

in the treatment group using SSW during the instruction phase, and 56 in the control group, using

a Learning Management System (LMS). A pre-test showed a relatively moderate use of SSW

technologies among the participants, with the exception of social networking technologies –

whose adoption was almost universal. Academic use of these tools was even less pronounced in

the pre-test phase. Students showed moderate willingness to employ SSW for the support of their

learning. Barriers to the adoption of these technologies were discussed.

Study findings could not demonstrate that the use of SSW would lead to different

information literacy scores, compared with more established technologies such as the LMS.

However, SSW use also formed an undercurrent of student behaviour, and in the aggregate SSW

use was associated with different outcomes. The role of factors contributing to these differences

and recommendations for future research are discussed.


I am indebted the creators of the Community College Leadership program at OISE, but

more importantly to the faculty and my fellow “cohortians” who shaped my truly unique and rich

learning experience over the last three years. Thank you all for your insights, intellect and your


I owe huge gratitude to Dr. Peter Dietsche, my thesis supervisor. Peter, your guidance

was incredibly helpful throughout this project, your suggestions were always very practical, your

meticulous attention to detail inspiring.

Special thanks to my committee members, Dr. Angela Hildyard and Dr. Charles Pascal.

In different ways, you both challenged me during the thesis development and the editing process.

To my family: know that I recognize and appreciate the sacrifices you made over past

years. I love you!

Table of contents
Abstract ........................................................................................................................................... ii
Acknowledgement ......................................................................................................................... iv
Table of contents ............................................................................................................................. v
List of tables ................................................................................................................................. viii
Dedication ...................................................................................................................................... xi
Chapter one - Introduction .............................................................................................................. 1
Description of problem................................................................................................................ 1

Definition of terms ...................................................................................................................... 7

Significance of the study ............................................................................................................. 8

Chapter two - Literature Review................................................................................................... 13

Net Generation students ............................................................................................................ 13

General characteristics, defining experiences of the Net Gen. ............................................. 14

Net Gen, learning, and technology ....................................................................................... 15
Critical evaluation of the claims about the Net Generation .................................................. 16
Disruptive technologies, Social Software and Web 2.0 ............................................................ 22

The theory of disruptive technologies................................................................................... 22

Definitions of social software ............................................................................................... 23
Review of SSW and Web 2.0 technologies. ......................................................................... 29
Social Software usage .......................................................................................................... 34
A taxonomy of social software ............................................................................................. 35
Teaching (instructional) and learning theories ..................................................................... 40
Studies on the efficacy of social software in education ........................................................ 47
Information Literacy ................................................................................................................. 52

Definition and background ................................................................................................... 52

Assessment of information literacy ...................................................................................... 54
The Information Literacy Test (ILT) .................................................................................... 56

Chapter three – Methodology and Procedures .............................................................................. 59
Context of the Study.................................................................................................................. 59

The research design ................................................................................................................... 62

Description of the course........................................................................................................... 69

Using the technologies .............................................................................................................. 70

The class wiki. .................................................................................................................. 71

Class blog .......................................................................................................................... 73

The social bookmarking tool. ........................................................................................... 75

Social networking. ............................................................................................................ 77

The LMS ........................................................................................................................... 78

The consent process. ................................................................................................................. 79

Data collection........................................................................................................................... 79

Limitations ................................................................................................................................ 82

Chapter four – Findings ................................................................................................................ 83

Profile of study groups .............................................................................................................. 83

Research question 1................................................................................................................... 85

Research Question 2. ................................................................................................................. 91

Research question 3................................................................................................................... 96

Research question 5................................................................................................................. 122

Research question 6................................................................................................................. 126

Chapter five – Discussion ........................................................................................................... 135

Summary of findings. .............................................................................................................. 135

RQ1. What is the nature and extent of SSW use among participating students? ............... 135
RQ2. What are the participating students’ perceptions and attitudes about using SSW for
learning? .............................................................................................................................. 138

RQ3. To what extent do these students utilize SSW for academic tasks in the context of
learning information literacy? ............................................................................................. 141
RQ4. How does the use of SSW impact these students’ scores on the information literacy
test? ..................................................................................................................................... 147
RQ5. How do the perceptions of the students who used SSW compare with those students
who did not use SSW? ........................................................................................................ 154
RQ6. Is there a relationship between the students’ perceptions and attitudes (RQ 2) toward
SSW and academic learning outcomes − as measured by the information literacy test, and
survey questionnaire (RQ 4 and 5)?.................................................................................... 155
Caveats and limitations ........................................................................................................... 157

The methodological challenges........................................................................................... 160

External constraints ............................................................................................................. 162
Recommendations and future research ................................................................................... 165

References ................................................................................................................................... 171

Appendix A - Invitation to participate in a study ....................................................................... 189
Appendix B - Student consent and pre-test survey ..................................................................... 190
Appendix C – Post-test survey.................................................................................................... 198
Appendix D – Table 39. Students’ view of SSW and final ILT scores ...................................... 209

List of tables

Table 1. Course design .................................................................................................................. 65

Table 2. Eighteen year olds and older students............................................................................. 83

Table 3. Age by class section........................................................................................................ 83

Table 4. Distribution of gender. .................................................................................................... 84

Table 5. Frequency of use of different SSW technologies .......................................................... 86

Table 6. Students indicating SSW use in past school work .......................................................... 87

Table 7. Students’ self-reported skills with SSW ......................................................................... 88

Table 8. Types of usage among SSW tools .................................................................................. 89

Table 9. Distribution of the SSW activities .................................................................................. 90

Table 10. Distribution of SSW attitudes ....................................................................................... 92

Table 11. Comparison of usage frequency and views regarding SWW tools .............................. 93

Table 12. Past use of SSW and favourable view as a personal learning tool ............................... 94

Table 13. Past use of SSW and favourable view of use in university classes .............................. 95

Table 14. Users and non-users of SSW in the study timeframe ................................................... 97

Table 15. Use of software tools in the class to keep track of course material/content ................. 99

Table 16. Use of software tools in the class for discussions and collaboration with peers ........ 100

Table 17. Reasons for not using SSW in the study..................................................................... 104

Table 18. Mean ILT scores by class section ............................................................................... 106

Table 19. Paired samples pre-test and post-test ILT scores ........................................................ 107

Table 20. Mean ILT scores by use of SSW ................................................................................ 108

Table 21. Mean ILT scores by class section and by use of SSW ............................................... 109

Table 22. ILT scores of ONLY SSW users by class sections ..................................................... 110

Table 23. T-test on potential factors explaining performance: all SSW users versus non-users 112

Table 24. Crosstab of SSW users/ non-users and class standing, by class section ..................... 114

Table 25. Average ILT scores by year of study .......................................................................... 116

Table 26. Average ILT scores by course section and year of study ........................................... 116

Table 27. Average ILT scores by SSW use and theoretical class standing ................................ 117

Table 28. Frequency of use of SSW technologies before the study. .......................................... 118

Table 29. Distribution of SSW skills according to ILT scores (low-medium-high) .................. 119

Table 30. The distribution of SSW users/non-users and gender. ................................................ 120

Table 31. ILT score distribution of SSW users and non-users within gender ............................ 121

Table 32. Perceptions of learning - by class section ................................................................... 123

Table 33. Perceptions of learning – by class sections and by users/non-users of SSW ............. 124

Table 34. Use of SSW technology and course interest ............................................................... 125

Table 35. The dimensions of students’ views of SSW for learning............................................ 126

Table 36. Correlations of learning perceptions and pre-existing favourable view of SSW for

learning – non-SSW users ........................................................................................................... 130

Table 37. Correlations of learning perceptions and pre-existing favourable view of SSW for

learning – SSW users .................................................................................................................. 131

Table 38. Correlations of learning perceptions and pre-existing unfavourable view of SSW for

learning – non-SSW users ........................................................................................................... 132

Table 39. Correlations of learning perceptions and pre-existing unfavourable view of SSW for

learning – SSW users .................................................................................................................. 133

Table 40. Students view of SSW and final ILT scores ............................................................... 209


I dedicate this thesis to my mother and to the memory of my father.

Chapter one - Introduction

Description of problem
The new and emerging technologies commonly named “social software” (SSW) such as,

blogs, wikis, and social networking services, is a set of Internet based, consumer oriented

computer technologies designed to help people to interact, communicate, create, and share

content. Social software represents a potential disruption in higher education, primarily with

respect to the current use of mainstream educational technologies and in formal instructional

environments. The nature of this disruption is only slowly being recognized. However, major

shifts in the use of educational technologies such as SSW could have wide ranging pedagogical

implications and significant economic impacts.

To understand the nature of this disruption some background information is needed. In

the last decade, two major converging themes characterized the debate over the use of

information technology in higher education. The first theme was the emergence of the so called

“Net Generation”, and the discussion about their characteristics and roles in the higher education

context. Who are these Net Gen students? The definition and emphasis varies somewhat, as does

the generational labels: they have been called “Millennials” (Howe & Strauss, 2000), the term

alluding to the fact that this cohort reached adulthood (and College age) around the new


Millennium, “digital natives” (Prensky, 2001a) or “Net Generation” (Tapscott, 1998). 1 Much has

been said about the Net Genners’ connections with technology. Born after 1982, they were the

first generation growing up with technology, (i.e., with personal computers and the Internet).

The perceived polarities between the “digitally native” new generation and the previous

generations which included college and university professors, created a lot of unease amongst

educators (Bennett, Maton, & Kervin, 2007). The use of the term “digital immigrant” illustrates

this tension: it refers to those who use “technology with an accent”, as opposed to the “digitally

native” millennials. An example of this “accent” is printing out hard copies of electronic texts for

reading, while digital natives simply tend to read on the computer screen. However, there were

much more serious claims about the digital natives, which gave educators pause. Prensky

claimed that technology conditioned digital natives to process information completely

differently. This is characterized by multi-tasking, parallel processing, and random access, rather

than by linearity - an approach more prevalent in the traditional field of education (2001a).

The educational discourse that emerged from the theories of Prensky, Tapscott, Howe

and Strauss, cited a host of other generational characteristics which in aggregate contributed to

the perception of a stark divide between this new generation of learners and previous

generations. This raised the questions of whether the higher education system is properly

equipped and prepared to meet the new challenges posed by the perceived needs of the new

generation. The debate that followed on the need for fundamental changes in education could be

While other labels also appeared (such as Generation Y, or more recently “Google generation”) these do not denote
theoretical frameworks like the others, perhaps because they are newer terms.

characterized as a sign of “academic moral panic” (Bennett et al., 2007). The roles and uses of

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) were central to this debate.

The second major theme was the emergence of new Web-based technologies in the new

Millennium. These technologies, collectively called “Social Software” (SSW), and sometimes

referred to as Web 2.0 technologies, quickly achieved phenomenal success: in just a few short

years, everybody (but mostly young people) seemed to use these tools to create and share content

on the Internet, to socialize, and build networks. Suddenly questions were raised about whether

older information technologies such as email, library databases, and other large scale academic

computer systems were still relevant in the face of the perceived new demands for technology.

Incidentally, higher education institutions were heavily invested in these existing technologies

whose relevancy was beginning to be questioned. SSW was generally portrayed as a disruptive

technology that introduces change and upsets the prevailing practices regarding the use of earlier


The theory of disruptive technology (Christensen, 1997) was actually postulated based on

a much earlier era of ICT. Christensen convincingly demonstrated how simple, cheap, and

unsophisticated technologies pose existential threats to mature, well established technologies and

businesses - causing them to fail, and eventually supplanting these old technologies. Arguably

this is an ongoing cycle, and there were several iterations of this theme since the seventies. In the

context of higher education there were a few of these cycles − distance education (Gibson, 2000)

and virtual/online universities (Lafferty & Edwards, 2004) are two prominent examples.

However in the last few years Social Software has emerged as the major disruptive technology in

higher education (Conole, de Laat, Dillon, & Darby, 2008; Fiedler et al., 2004).

The explanation loops back to the first theme (i.e., the Net Gen and its use of ICT). As SSW

technologies grew exponentially over the last few years, evidence emerged that they play a

central role in today’s Net Gen students’ general computer use - primarily for personal,

recreational use. There is a widely shared general sense that Social Software (at least certain

types of it) are the de facto technologies of the Net Generation (Oblinger, 2003; Lenhart,

Madden, Macgill, & Smith, 2007). The responses to what this means for higher education were

varied, but generally two schools of thought have emerged. There were those who saw this as an

opportunity to leverage the trend and reach students in their “native” technological environment

(e.g., (Blummer, 2007; Bordeaux & Boyd, 2007). Then, there were those who went beyond the

recognition of marketing opportunities and felt that these technologies were better suited to

support contemporary pedagogical principles than the currently used, mature educational

technologies (e.g., Dalsgaard, 2006). This latter school foreboded the disruptive nature of SSW

technology. The literature review in the next chapter will elaborate on the theory of disruptive

technology and demonstrate how social software fits within the theory. For both schools of

thought, social software appeared to be a serious challenger for space in the educational

technology ecosystem.

Innovators and early adopters of the technology have advocated the use of SSW over, or

complementary to, established technologies, such as Course Management / Learning

Management Systems. At the same time, institutions have so far resisted wide scale, formal

adoption of these SSW technologies for instructional support. While some institutions, mostly

those with a strong online focus and a distance education profile, primarily in the United States

and the UK, have sought to accommodate SSW in some (even if limited) form, there has been a

tension between the push by early adopters to co-opt these hitherto non-sanctioned tools for the

formal support of teaching and learning, and the perception by the institutions that these would

weaken the prevailing instructional paradigm.

There is a long list of arguments supporting both positions (e.g., Franklin & Harmelen,

2007; Lowerison & Schmid, 2007; Staley, 2009). Essentially proponents of SSW hold that

because SSW has an open architecture and integrates with the World Wide Web, it opens up new

possibilities for new dimensions of learning, including borderless and informal learning – while

the opposing side says that it lacks the essential elements that are needed to control the

educational process. In spite of the increasing interest to leverage the SSW trend in education,

not enough is known about the utility of these tools in the academic environment, and about their

impact on students’ learning (e.g., Trinder, Guiller, Margaryan, Littlejohn, & Nicol, 2008;

Salaway, Caruso, & Nelson, 2008).

The purpose of this thesis research study is to contribute to the body of knowledge on the

efficacy and pedagogical impact of social software technologies to support students’ learning

experience. Specifically, it aims to fill the gap that I found in the few empirical studies reported

in the literature, by exploring the use of SSW by a small sample of Net Gen students at one lap

top university, and its impact on their learning.

It does this by addressing the following research questions:

Main Research Question:


How does social software impact the information literacy skills and learning of a sample of Net

Generation students at one laptop university located in southern Ontario?

Research Questions:

1. What is the nature and extent of SSW use among the participating students?

2. What are the participating students’ perceptions and attitudes about using SSW for


3. To what extent do these students utilize SSW for academic tasks in the context of

learning information literacy?

a. To what extent do they leverage the distinguishing features of these tools?

b. What are the barriers (if any) to using SSW in this context?

4. How does the use of SSW impact these students’ scores on the information literacy test?

5. How do the perceptions of the students who used SSW compare with those students who

did not use SSW?

6. Is there a relationship between the students’ perceptions and attitudes (RQ 2) toward

SSW and academic learning outcomes − as measured by the information literacy test, and

survey questionnaire (RQ 4 and 5).


Definition of terms
Net Generation (Net Gen) Students: broadly defined as the generation born after 1982.

Social software: in general sense software that supports group interaction. More specifically it is

a set of Internet based, consumer oriented computer technologies designed to help people to

interact, communicate, create, manipulate, and share content. By virtue of integration with the

World Wide Web, the idea behind SSW is to connect communities based on common interests,

practices, etc., overcoming traditional obstacles of space, time, and technological barriers (Boyd,

2006; Coates, 2005; Shirky, 2003). Another key attribute set of SSW is scalability and open

architecture, resulting in “network effects” - which means the more people use these tools and

services, the more valuable and richer they become. Some of the main examples of SSW tools

are blogs, social networking, bookmarking/tagging software, and wikis. Today’s social software

has another set of key attributes differentiating it from the earlier generation of collaborative

software: low cost, ease of use, individuality, placing the user in the locus of control,

adoptability, etc. (See also disruptive technologies)

Disruptive technologies: a theory that holds that cheap and unsophisticated, emerging

technologies can successfully challenge established, so called “sustaining” technologies because

those are developed for the mainstream, mature market and often cannot anticipate the market

for the new emerging technologies. In the education context, social software applications may be

considered disruptive technologies because they lend support to the notion of changing of the

formal learning paradigm − as opposed to mature sustaining technologies such as course

management systems or library systems.


Academic outcomes: performance and other learning outcomes: Both are key measurements

used as a measure of pedagogical success. Traditionally, academic performance (e.g., grades)

has been the preferred metric because of its perceived quantifiable nature. Learning outcomes,

the measure of attainments of tasks, are much harder to standardize. Information literacy:

Broadly defined by the Association of College & Research Libraries “Information Literacy is the

set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information.” (Association of College and

Research Libraries). The ACRL developed a set of standards, outcomes, and performance

indicators around these basic functions. The concept of information literacy as a psychological

construct is associated with critical thinking (Jones & RiCharde, 2005 p. 20), and spans a whole

range of lower and higher order cognitive skills.

Significance of the study

It is well recognized that maintaining and supporting the use of Information and

Communications Technology (ICT) in the context of higher education represents a very large

portion of the institutional budget. When managing even the relatively predictable cycle for

mature educational technologies can be challenging for institutions, supporting the students’ own

technologies is often seen as competition for the scare resources. Peer to peer networking and

music downloading are popular illustrations of this tension. 2 However, Social Software is fast

appearing on the radar screen of the systems departments and beyond. Should the institutional

infrastructure be expanded to accommodate this traffic on campus? Should there be limits placed

For most higher education institutions it would be quite a luxury to follow the examples of some better endowed
US universities (see: http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-125859510.html), which for example obtained campus
wide license to music downloading services like Napster to head off potential liability issues.

on it? Should the institutions obtain licenses for, and support local versions of, these new

technologies? These questions have serious financial and other implications in higher education.

Additionally, there are pedagogical and philosophical considerations. Does the current

model of higher education where “learning is made as uniform and controlled as possible (under

the name of ‘standardization’ and ‘outcomes based’ assessments)” (Staley, 2009 p. 40) meet the

needs of the information society, in this era of globalization? Or, should there be a shift in

universities and colleges toward more open and borderless education? Based on new,

groundbreaking developments in higher education, such as MIT’s open courseware, Staley

proposes a model that he calls “wiki-zed university” or “wikiversity”. As implied by its name,

this model would be built on the same principles as social software: openness, collaboration,

self-organization and self-governance. SSW applications could provide the infrastructure for

such a model, although it would not necessarily operate only in a virtual environment (ibid.

p.42). Even if such future models of higher education lack the traditional “credentialing”

mechanisms, it is conceivable that in the future some kind of reputation-based consensus will

build as indicator of quality in this new model, making it comparable with and a challenge to the

Academy of today.

There is also a growing recognition that more and more of the learning occurs informally,

which can be aided by SSW applications and technologies. Leslie and Landon for example state:

Most investigations find that 80% of the learning in organizations happens

informally and yet 80% of learning budget expenditures support formal learning
efforts. Indeed, organizations are increasingly recognizing the value of informal
learning and perspectival transformations taking place regarding it as social
software invades enterprise in large Fortune 500 companies. (Leslie & Landon,
2008 p. 20)

This logic is being extended even within the walls of formal education environments.

The use of SSW in higher education promises considerable benefits. It could also be a

Trojan horse, which by shifting the emphasis on informal learning, eventually poses a threat to

the existence of the formal academy. However, it is too difficult to separate the hype around

SSW from the reality: in my review of the literature, I found very little empirical research that

validated the arguments on either side.

This thesis contributes to filling this gap in the literature. It aims to expand our

understanding of students’ current use of and attitudes toward using SSW in formal academic

environments, as a critical factor for success for institutional adoption. Further, it hopes to

measure specific impacts of SSW use on learning of the students who participated in this study.


The researcher has worked for the study university for six years in a position responsible

for the management of information technology in the library. Among the mandates of the library

IT is to ensure that technology is a true differentiator in research, teaching and learning at the

university. To achieve this mandate, the strategic objective of the library is to identify and

implement innovative technologies that can help achieving this mandate. Thus the research

project both suited the personal interest of the researcher, and offered valuable information for

the institution as a whole.

Context of the Study University


The study university is a laptop university in southern Ontario. The use of technology in

teaching and learning is a strategic focus of the university. The university sees itself providing

market oriented programs to graduates that help them excel in a knowledge-driven economy. The

university maintains state of the art facilities and information and communication technologies

(ICT) to help achieving these goals. The university provides every undergraduate student a

laptop computer to enable them to learn and study anywhere, any time. These characteristics

form the core of the university marketing strategy – it tries to attract students and faculty

interested in using ICT in teaching and learning.

Theoretical Framework

Although the study does not extensively use a theoretical framework, the researcher was

interested to examine how the use of SSW in the learning environment applies to the theory of

technological disruption, elucidated by Christensen (1997). The literature review in the next

section will elaborate on this theory. In this context, there are two somewhat related overarching

themes that form the backdrop of the study: institutional change and the diffusion of innovation

models (Bennett & Bennett, 2002; Salmon, 2005; Franklin & Harmelen, 2007), but these

frameworks were not used in a systematic manner.

Scope and Limitations of the Study

This case study focuses on the use and impacts of SSW at single university, using a small

purposeful sample of students. The university is unique because of its strong focus on the use of

technology in teaching and learning. Because of the university recruiting efforts, participating

students are assumed to be technology oriented. The generalizability of study findings may be

limited to such contexts.


The introduction described the emergence of SSW as a potentially disruptive technology in

Higher Education. It described Net Generation students as the backdrop and context of this

disruption. The introduction provided a definition of key concepts in the study. The research

questions, the rationale for, and the significance of the study were explained. Finally, the study

context and limitations were stated.


Chapter two - Literature Review

This chapter consists of three parts. The first part provides an overview of the literature

on the Net Generation, to set the stage for the discussion of the role of information technology in

the life and educational activities of this population. The second part discusses the concept of

disruptive technologies, and how the emerging Web 2.0 technologies and “social software” fit in

this framework. This is necessary to understand the background to why students’ views about,

social software as well as their behaviors using SSW has important implications for learning in

Higher Education. The third part provides an overview of the current scholarship on the relation

between these emerging tools and higher education in the context of learning.

Net Generation students

The emergence of the concept of the Net Generation coincided with the rise of the

Internet as the defining technology at the beginning of the new millennium, the same way as the

Industrial Revolution was a technology driven event. This sets the context for the following


A number of influential works were published (Howe & Strauss, 2000; Oblinger, 2003;

Prensky, 2001a; Prensky, 2001b; Tapscott, 1998) and these works subsequently spawned others

to produce an extensive body of literature about this new generation. Various labels were used to

designate this age cohort: Millennials, Generation Y, Digital Natives, and Net Generation (or Net

Gen for short). The definition of Net Gen varies – but most often it is tied to specific birth years

(e.g., after 1982). Today a commonly accepted understanding is that this generation reached

adulthood around, or after, the new millennium. This has not changed in the intervening years,

although some newer forms (such as “Google generation”) of generational labels have appeared

recently (Nicholas, Rowlands, & Huntington, 2007). This literature (e.g., Oblinger, 2005a;

Prensky, 2001; Tapscott, 1998) described the Net Gen age cohort as being radically different

from the previous generations. These supposedly radical attributes provided fuel for opening a

dialog on the future directions of higher education both in pedagogy, and educational policies

and practices. At the same time it also re-ignited a debate on the use of technology in education.

While it was acknowledged by some that the generational demographics in higher

education are far from homogenous (for example Oblinger, 2005a, highlighted the influx of other

“non-traditional” and adult learners) to most observers, Net Gen clearly represented the key

demographics for the future. It has been projected that in the US, this generation would not only

increase participation rates in higher education from 44% in 2002 to 75% in 2012, but more

importantly it would form a new cohort of administrators and faculty (Coomes & DeBard, 2004).

General characteristics, defining experiences of the Net Gen.

Because it can have far reaching consequences in educational practice, it is worth

examining the usefulness of the “generational” construct. For example, Howe & Strauss (2000)

defined generation as a cohort group “whose length approximates the span from birth to

adulthood” (p. 60) and which shares “common attitude and behaviour traits and a common

collective identity” (p. 64). Woodall (2004) in his analysis distilled seven core traits of the

Millennials: team orientation, confident, achieving, pressured, conventional, sheltered, and

special. Other contributors to the Net Gen commentary (Tapscott, 1998) highlighted

environmental influences (such as the impacts of growing up with technology), as well as a host

of additional personality styles and attributes. Oblinger (2005a) summarized the core traits of the

Net Gen as follows: digitally literate, connected, immediate, experiential, social (prefer to work

in teams), demand engagement, and visual. Oblinger’s views were clearly influenced by Mark

Prensky, whose writings focused on this generation in the context of information technology.

Prensky even invented a term: “digital natives” to illustrate this intimate relationship he claimed


Although these labels are quite dramatic when used to contrast this cohort group with

previous ones, they are also fairly broad and generic. It is questionable how such sweeping

generalizations of a wide population can be used to inform specific educational policies, yet the

discussion of the Net Generation that subsequently evolved in the literature trended in that very


Net Gen, learning, and technology

Digital Natives are characterized (Prensky, 2001a) as a generation that grew up with
technology. Prensky states:

Computer games, email, the Internet, cell phones and instant messaging are integral parts
of their lives. They think and process information fundamentally differently. (p.1). They
like to parallel process and multi-task. They prefer their graphics before their text rather
than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when
networked. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards. They prefer games
to “serious” work. (p. 2)

While Prensky’s declarative statements, which seemed to be supported by casual observations of

the trends in information technology and user behaviour, had a common sense appeal, the more

dramatic impacts of his theories were his conclusions about the educational implications.

Prensky contrasted digital natives with digital immigrants (teachers), and claimed that the

disparity of IT skills between them presented a significant challenge to the future of education.

He claimed that the old educational paradigm, with its emphasis on structure, and step by step

linear approach to teaching, no longer worked. He supported this claim by discussing (2001b) the

unique cognitive characteristics of the Net Gen. Prensky claimed that based on research in

neuroplasticity, the brain structure of digital natives likely was changed. One example of this

change was the characterization of this new generation as “experiential”, rather than “reflective”

in its approaches to learning 3.

Oblinger (2005a) complemented Prensky’s notion of “radically different” by

emphasizing a second dimension: the social nature of this cohort. This would be particularly

important in the educational context. She claimed:

The social nature of Net Geners, as well as their desire for experiential learning, implies
that interaction is an important technique for colleges and universities to employ. […]
Students do best when they actively construct their own knowledge. (2.13)

For most of these changes in the Net Geners lives information technology use provided the

context, and generated the greatest interest, from gaming to research to learning.

Critical evaluation of the claims about the Net Generation

As the seminal claims of the Net Gen literature have become the dominant school of

thought in the first half of this decade, they have also been increasingly scrutinized and debated.

Siemens (2007) agreed with Prensky that learners were changing, (partially as a result of

technology-infused environment) but he refuted the contention that this change affected the Net

Generation only. Rather, he claimed that technology use was determined by the context. For

In a similar sense as in Kolb’s cycle of learning.

example, Siemens stated that Net Generation students did seem to prefer using technology in

social interaction (probably because of peer group influence) – but this occurred mostly outside

of the work/school environments. Admittedly, based on classroom observations and not

empirical evidence, inside the school and work environment there is no difference between

digital natives and other generations in preferences for technology. This does not mean that there

are no differences in the way the Net Gen approaches technology:

the younger generation often understands technology at a utilitarian level (i.e., how to use
a piece of software for its intended purpose, but not much beyond that). Depth of
understanding, social implications, trends, and other more advanced concepts are often
not present. (para. 8)

Siemens suggested that it would be a mistake to formulate education policy in reaction to

perceived learning preferences. He claimed that the most important changes affecting higher

education institutions are broad ones, such as globalization, or the fact that society is becoming

more complex. While changing learning styles should be accommodated, the real need is for

preparing students for these broader changes. In this context Prensky’s arguments take a

narrower meaning.

A more systematic review of the “Digital Natives” literature (Bennett et al., 2007)

characterized the debate on the need for fundamental changes in education as a sign of

“academic moral panic”. According to the authors, the characteristics of this phenomenon

included perceived stark divides between technophiles and technophobes, learners and teachers,

and Net Geners and older generations, usually described using dramatic language. In reviewing

the literature on the Net Gen’s relationship with technology and on their perceived learning

behaviours and attitudes, the authors did not find much empirical evidence to support these

dramatic claims. However, they concluded that much new research needs to be done to

disentangle the complex relationships of technology and educational use in young peoples’ lives.

The dearth of empirical studies on this topic was also pointed out by other authors

(Bennett et al., 2007; Conole, et al., 2008; Gunter, 2007; Kennedy et al., 2006). A few such

studies have emerged in the last few years. These studies varied greatly both in methodology and

scope. For example, two major large scale research projects originating in the United States were

primarily concerned with surveying the trends of IT uses. Both employed largely descriptive

statistical methods. One of these, the series of ECAR surveys (Caruso & Kvavik, 2005; Salaway,

Katz, Caruso, Kvavik, & Nelson, 2006; Salaway, Caruso, & Nelson, 2007) focused on the use of

technology among undergraduate students. These series isolated technology trends in a few

major categories pertinent to higher education. These range from technology ownership to

general skills to classroom usage. The Pew study (Lenhart et al., 2007) employed similar

methods for a broader population. Outside the US, similar approaches were taken by the

University of Melbourne study in Australia (Kennedy, Krause, Judd, Churchward, & Gray,

2006), and the Planet Edge Project survey of eleven European countries (Synovate, 2007).

Generally all of these studies showed a high level of IT use among the Net Generation.

At the same time they also highlighted various demographical differences and other variations in

the use of specific types and classes of technologies. The different domains in which they were

used (i.e., leisure, education, work, etc.) were also part of the differentiated approach. The

longitudinal ECAR studies for example focused on the higher education environment, while also

highlighting the discrepancies between the high level of technology ownership (98.4% of

students reported owning a computer in 2007) and preferences for using technology in courses,

which was only moderate, about 59 percent (Salaway et al., 2007 p. 5).

The Pew study on the other hand highlighted socio-economic differences in access to and

use of technology (Lenhart et al., 2007). A study at the University of Melbourne (Kennedy,

Krause, Judd et al., 2006) emphasized the variance in use and scope of a number of specific

technologies amongst first year students. Differentiation is also apparent in the ECAR data: for

example Salaway et al., (2007 p. 43-44) underscored the highly engaged use of socializing

technologies amongst Net Gen students, compared to other age groups. The 2008 edition of this

series (Salaway et al., 2008) underscored other, differences, such as gender, in both preferences

for, and adoption of technology in courses, revealing a type of “digital divide”.

While these studies contribute to challenging any monolithic view of technology use

along generational lines, they are not nuanced enough to help us form a deeper understanding of

why the differences exist. As Lohnes & Kinzer (2007) pointed out, the problem with these

questionnaire-based surveys is that they tend to de-contextualize the use of technology without

trying to explain the reasons why students use it in certain ways. Gunter (2007) corroborated this

view in saying:

Are new generations evolving that can be defined not just by the extent to which they
access ICTs, but also by the ways in which they do so? To answer this question, we need
to find evidence that demonstrates not only differences in kind according to quantitative
user indicators but also differences in kind according to qualitative usage indicators. (p.

More recently a handful of studies have been published, which aimed to perform a more

in-depth analysis of the complexities of technology usage in the learning environment of the Net

Generation. An example of a study using more complex methodologies is a twin project (Conole,

De Laat, Dillon, & Darby, 2006) and (Creanor, Trinder, Gowan, & Howells, 2006) in the UK

examining IT use in the learning environment. This study uses a mixed methodology, employing

surveys, content analysis of audio logs, and interviews, to collect data on students’ experience

with technology, from the students’ point of view. Generally the results were consistent with the

earlier studies in finding that IT use is pervasive in this population, and that it is integrated with

all (including academic) aspects of life. The study particularly emphasized the centrality of

technology in the learning activities of students.

Another UK study, commissioned by the British Library (Nicholas et al., 2007) also

employed complex methodologies, combining a number of meta analyses of literature, surveys,

and deep log analyses. Although this study focused on a narrower aspect of the technology use

(i.e. how it impacts on information research behaviour), it offered insights about digital natives’

relationship with technology in a broader sense. In discussing these, the study findings were

contrasted with claims stated in the earlier literature. For example, earlier research was generally

confirmed in the following areas: the Net Gen’s heightened competencies with and expectations

from technology, preferences for interaction and collaboration, and preferences for visual

information over text. At the same time the authors refuted such canonical declarations that this

generation had no tolerance for delay; that they viewed peers as more credible than parents,

teachers, and other authorities; and that they were primarily experiential when it comes to

learning the use of technology.

Another empirical study is currently in progress (Kennedy et al., 2006). This study, in the

later phases, plans to employ more qualitative approaches, including interviews with focus

groups. So far only preliminary results have been reported, debunking the myth around the

widespread use of emerging technologies amongst students recently entering higher education

(Kennedy et al., 2007).

A single case study at a liberal arts college (Lohnes & Kinzer, 2007) utilized

ethnographic/mixed methods to explore students’ use of technology both inside and outside of an

academic setting. The data collection included observations, focus group interviews, and content

analysis of artifacts. The results of this study again challenged the conventional wisdom: students

had more preference for technology outside the classroom.

An interesting approach was taken at the North Arizona University (Garcia & Qin, 2007),

where the researchers attempted to discern generational differences amongst their student

population, in order to understand the implications for learning. They concentrated on three

areas: technical ability, learning beliefs, and learning responsibility beliefs (all self reported via

an online survey). This study seemed to confirm some Net Gen stereotypes, (e.g., that they are

more comfortable with technology than other groups), while refuting others. To illustrate some

examples in the latter category, contrary to expectations, Net Gen students rated both team work

and the importance of the role of peers for learning relatively low. Overall, the only significant

differences between the age cohorts were in the area of perceived technical abilities.

Collectively these studies indicate that some cautious parallels can be drawn between

increased IT usage among Net Gen students, and its potential educational benefits. Although the

first trend in increased IT use can be confirmed, the reviewed literature was less revealing on the

second issue.

Disruptive technologies, Social Software and Web 2.0

This section of the literature review sets the context for the discussion on using Social

Software (SSW) in higher education. It explains why SSW has the potential to supplant existing

educational technologies. It will describe what SSW is, outline a functional taxonomy, discuss it

in a broader context of learning theories, and review studies on the efficacy of SSW in

educational settings. These will provide background information, and set the context for the

examination students’ use of these technologies later in the study.

The theory of disruptive technologies

The original term “disruptive technology” was coined by Clayton Christensen (1997).

Technologies, in the sense that Christensen uses the word, may refer to either “hard”

technologies producing (physical) goods, or “soft” technologies (e.g., providing a service). He

was using a case study with an earlier computer technology (of the disk drive industry in the

1980’s) to illustrate the concept, but the implications are clearly valid today. There is no space

here to describe the case study, but we can summarize the following tenets from the theory:

• Disruptive technologies are often based on simple innovations that are geared toward the

lower end of the market, often for unsophisticated customers, and offer convenience for

these customers.

• This market is typically not served by mainstream companies.

• The disruptive technology products are limited in functionality and often cheap.

• Mainstream markets operate on “sustaining technologies”. These are technologies, often

developed by successful companies to improve the performance of established products.

• Mainstream companies cannot anticipate disruptive technologies well because the market

for these technologies is very limited or is not recognized at all.

Before the emergence of social software and Web 2.0 technologies, there have been other

technologies or technology related phenomena that were considered disruptive in the educational

context. Lafferty (2004), for example, discussed the disruptions by “virtual” (i.e., online)

universities, and corporate universities to both the traditional institutional model in education and

to teaching centred pedagogy.

Information technology-mediated distance education was considered another type of

disruption (Gibson, 2000) to traditional pedagogies. However as the following discussion of the

Social Software and Web 2.0 will demonstrate, it should be considered the de facto disruptive

technology in education.

Definitions of social software

Social software is a term which, although most observers have no problem recognizing

(in the sense of what kind of applications it refers to), defies attempts for concise definition. The

difficulty of definition is explained in the historical treatment (Allen, 2004) of the evolution of

technologies that eventually lead to the emergence of what is now commonly understood as

social software. Social software is functionally too broad, yet the connotations of technologies

are narrow. For example, Clay Shirky, who allegedly coined the term, defined social software as


Social software, software that supports group communications, includes everything from
the simple CC: line in email to vast 3D game worlds like EverQuest, and it can be as
undirected as a chat room, or as task-oriented as a wiki (a collaborative workspace).
Because there are so many patterns of group interaction, social software is a much larger
category than things like groupware or online communities -- though it includes those
things, not all group communication is business-focused or communal. One of the few
commonalities in this big category is that social software is unique to the internet in a
way that software for broadcast or personal communications are not. (Shirky, 2003 para.

Most observers have a problem with such a broad definition, because while it accurately

reflects the fact that it evolved with information and communication technology (ICT) generally

(Allen, 2004), the term as it is understood today denotes a specific approach, feature set, and

functionality. Some of the functional definitions of SSW are more useful but often have narrower

focus. Anderson (2005) for example focused on the use and characteristic of social software in

virtual learning environments: “social software [are] networked tools that support and

encourage individuals to learn together while retaining individual control over their time, space,

presence, activity, identity and relationship” (p. 4).

Boyd’s definition highlights the importance of communicative functions of SSW in three

interrelated areas:

1. Support for conversational interaction between individuals or groups.

2. Support for social feedback — which allows a group to rate the contributions of others,

perhaps implicitly, leading to the creation of digital reputation.

3. Support for social networks — to explicitly create and manage a digital expression of

people's personal relationships, and to help them build new relationships (Boyd, 2006

para. 6).

Coates (2005) attempted to combine the broadest functionalities of social software with

references to specific applications as a ‘short hand’:

Social software can be loosely defined as software which supports, extends, or derives
added value from, human social behaviour - message-boards, musical taste-sharing,
photo-sharing, instant messaging, mailing lists, social networking (para. 2).

A number of authors (Anderson, 2005; Dalsgaard, 2006) underlined the difficulties with a

concise definition. As Dalsgaard pointed out, this is often a reflection of how these technologies

are used: “The term not only includes a wide range of different technologies, but the social

aspect of the technologies often emerges from a combined use of different technologies” (para.


Another difficulty with conceptualizing social software arises from the fact that it is often

used interchangeably with another recently emerged term: “Web 2.0”. Frequently both Web 2.0

and SSW denote the same specific technologies - the differences in the concepts are subtle,

sometimes philosophical.

The term Web 2.0 originated with O’Reilly Media, a Silicon Valley think tank. As it was

pointed out (Anderson, 2007) by proposing this new paradigm, O’Reilly’s intent was to define

the characteristics of a successful business model in a post “dot-com” bust era. According to

O’Reilly (2005) the main principles of Web 2.0 are:

• Services, not packaged software, with cost-effective scalability

• Control over unique, hard-to-recreate data sources that get richer as more people use


• Trusting users as co-developers

• Harnessing collective intelligence

• Lightweight user interfaces, development models, AND business models

The Web 2.0 principles defined by O’Reilly are generic, and they broadly define the

characteristics of a new approach to developing IT applications, without prescribing the specific

forms of these applications. The different incarnations of SSW adhere to the Web 2.0 principles,

but by no means is it the only type of technology that manifests these principles. The overarching

themes in of the Web 2.0 paradigm such as open architecture, scalability, ease of use (with

particular implications for adoptability), user-centred approach, etc., spawned a whole array of

new “2.0” terminology 4, based on similar philosophical principles.

While the underlying themes in SSW are the same as in Web 2.0, it is easier to make the

distinction that the latter is understood more as a framework, while the former as a genre of

software built on this framework. O’Reilly’s principles also highlight the attributes of SSW

which can be used to define it as a disruptive technology, particularly in the field of higher

education. For example, the open architecture/open source paradigm presents disruption to

traditional software practices. The traditional approach follows a top-down model, where

software developer companies define the market, with input from clients of course, but

ultimately retaining control over the process, and over decisions on the functions and features of

the product. The new open source paradigm represents a much more dynamic relationship

In recent years we have also seen “Learning 2.0”, “Publishing 2.0”, “Library 2.0”, etc.

between the market and product development. In practical terms this could mean increased

flexibility for educational institutions. Secondly, the user-centred nature of social software – the

fact that it is built on user-contributed and manipulated content, challenges conventional

educational practices, which tend to be institution-centred.

While the theoretical underpinnings of social software provide a compelling argument to

view these tools as disruptive technologies, it is also important to examine whether in practice

the processes leading to organizational change in the adoption of these technologies are different

or similar to those observed in earlier information and communication technologies.

Prior to the emergence of SSW, the diffusion of innovation in higher educational

environment exhibited different patterns. Salmon (2005 p. 205) for example characterized this as

a top-down approach where these technologies were considered for adoption to fit institutional,

“policy” aspirations. Bennett & Bennett (2002) also identified administrative pressures as the

main drivers for adopting ICT in the learning environment, while acknowledging that students

may be increasingly insistent in emerging technology use. However, a review of the literature on

education focused technologies predating SSW, such as computer supported collaborative

learning (CSCL), Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) and other Internet based

technologies, generally confirmed that having largely been originated from a theoretical basis,

the drivers of technology change and adoption in the institutional environment were influenced

more by policy than by grassroots market forces. To highlight the lack of broad market demand,

a number of studies cited inadequacies with those technologies, rendering them hard to adapt to

the learning environment. Lipponen (2002) for example surveyed consumer based technologies

such as discussion boards, and argued for purposefully built educational applications supporting

knowledge building instead. Kreijns, Kirschner & Jochems (2003) highlighted that while the

educational promise of these technologies was high, the top-down approach of implementing

them so far lead to disappointing results (p. 349).

Social Software, in contrast is a consumer driven phenomenon (Gotta, 2006),

representing a paradigm change: the technology is both a driver of online behaviors and is

influenced by those behaviours (Bryant, 2007). Several authors argue that SSW is a potential

game changer in higher education because of their open nature (Fiedler et al., 2004; Leslie &

Landon, 2008) which leads to self-empowerment of users (Bryant, 2007). Gotta (2006)

demonstrated that this consumer driven market already influenced enterprise applications in the

world of business. The educational environment closely parallels this evolution.

As seen earlier in the discussion of the Net Gen literature, there is some evidence to

support the thesis that students demand increased ITC use in classes, although not as high as

most pundits claim (Caruso & Kvavik, 2005; Salaway et al., 2006; Salaway et al., 2007;

Salaway et al., 2008). Customer (student) demand is, previous to the emergence of SSW and

Web 2.0 technologies, used to be but one of the drivers for institutional change in the ICT

lifecycle. The role of other factors, such as pedagogical considerations and leveraging

efficiencies inherent in technology based approaches has been acknowledged (Bennett &

Bennett, 2002; Percival & Muirhead, 2009; Salmon, 2005; Franklin & Harmelen, 2007).

However these forces of consumer demand appear to gain strength with the new technology

paradigm in SSW where the boundaries of the leisure, work, and learning are increasingly

blurred (Conole et al., 2006). Little empirical research exists to support this today, but if the

trend is confirmed SSW is potentially a disruptive force in at least three different areas in higher


• IT management

• The curriculum based, institutionally focused formal education sphere

• Teaching-centred, pedagogical practices

This literature review focuses on the last two areas. First it will discuss the major SSW

technologies, followed by a functional taxonomy. These main issues around SSW will be

synthesized in the context of contemporary learning theories. The last section of the review will

discuss specific studies that examined the utility of SSW from the point of view of various

learning theories.

Review of SSW and Web 2.0 technologies.

The following section provides definitions for the major social software technologies. This is

a quickly developing area, and rather than attempting to detail specific technologies, the list

below employs a generic approach.

• Blogs (a shortened form of the original term: “weblogs”): these are personal tools used

for posting typically short commentary, reflections, journals, etc., online. The control

over content resides with the owner of the blog, however, the ability to add comments to

these postings is usually open to others. This functionality of blogs affords the creation of

a narrative dialogue over time. In this sense blogs have both a communicative and

documentative function (McGee & Diaz, 2007). Additionally, blogs can be linked to

other blogs via various additional technologies (track-back protocol, and other

aggregation services, called “blogrolls”). Essentially what this means is that comments

made about an entry in blog A by blog B can be automatically displayed within blog A.

This adds another dimension to blogs (this is sometimes called “network effects”).

• Social networking: online services that foster the self-organization of groups based on

shared interests, goals, demographics, etc. These services are often highly evolved, and

often integrate other Web 2.0 technologies, such as instant messaging, file sharing,

collaborative content generation, etc. Because of this multifaceted feature set, social

networking applications have been considered for adaptation for both corporate and

educational environments (Anderson, 2005; Gotta, 2006).

• File/media sharing: this area is quite broad, and includes the creation and sharing of a

wide variety of media, (e.g., videos, photos, and audio) through online services (e.g.,

YouTube 5 and Flickr 6) which enable organizing, classifying, and sharing of material. The

use of these services often results in the blurring of the boundaries between creator and

consumer, which has been cited as one of the most significant features of the Web 2.0

phenomenon. There is a considerable convergence of technologies in this area also, with

social networking, tagging, and syndication (see below).

• Personal media such as Podcasting: in terms of taxonomy, this could be considered a

subset of file and media sharing (above). Podcasting originally meant distributing



recordings (talks, commentary, and lectures) in audio format for use on a variety of

devices, ranging from portable players to computers. Because of the narrative nature of

the content, parallels have been made with blogs (Anderson, 2007). The potential impact

of podcasting in education has been recognized for some time (Boulos & Wheelert,

2007). Newer technologies in podcasting include video formats. Podcasts too, tend to

converge with other Web 2.0 technologies, primarily via syndication of content (see

RSS). This augmentative feature affords some “social” characteristics to podcasting.

• RSS: standing for “Really Simple Syndication”, and a similar technology called “Atom”

are technologies supporting aggregation and syndication of electronic content via the

Internet. Using open data standards (xml), and a variety of software applications and

services, this technology facilitates the interchange of content by allowing users to select

what they want to receive from the World Wide Web, and to aggregate all this content.

This is then accessible via RSS software or a web browser using an online service. In a

strict technical sense RSS is not social software in itself, but acts as a conduit for other

Web 2.0 applications, and emulates similar functions (Secker, 2007).

• Wiki: a web based technology for creating and editing web pages and sites. The most

famous wiki application is the Wikipedia 7. However, a large variety of specific wiki

software exists, with innumerable implementations. Some of the distinguishing features

of the wiki are their open nature, and ease of use. Wikipedia for example illustrates the

first feature: it can be edited by anyone without restrictions – although many other wiki


applications do employ techniques to limit spam. The ease of use aspect of wikis is

perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that no knowledge of programming languages and

other web technologies is required to edit them in the web environment. Additional

features such as the ability to track the history of changes, discussion, and notification

tools are also often part of wikis. Wikis have been widely used in corporate knowledge

management applications as well as in educational settings (Chen et al., 2005; Minocha

& Thomas, 2007).

• Social bookmarking tools (SBT), tagging, and “folksonomies”: collectively these are a

set of resource sharing tools, practices, and protocols. The main purpose of these is to

enhance the “findability” of information based on open classification protocols and

aggregation of data. For example, an online resource can be tagged, labeled and classified

by users as they see fit. Unlike traditional cataloguing and database systems, SBT do not

impose any classification standards. These resources and tags are usually maintained

through online services. Both the resources that have been classified and their labels/tags

are visible to everyone. As people use the same classification terms, they are

automatically aggregated, and the systems often display visual clues to indicate popular

terms, (e.g., more frequently used terms appear in proportionally larger text size).

Another technique used by SBT is the addition of semantic attributes, with the use of “tag

clouds”. These are tags that can be clustered based on similarity of concepts. The use of

these techniques eventually leads to the development of community generated

classification systems. The term “folksonomies” denoting these classification schemes is

the reflection of this process. In contrast with standard classifications systems,


folksonomies afford “collaborative meaning making” which is often a core tenet in

constructivist theories (Weibel, 2007).

Social bookmarking systems aid resource discovery serendipitously in two ways:

1. users can see what resources were tagged others with the same or similar

classification terms they are interested in. This is the core function of any

classification system. The second method, however, is unique to social


2. because the user can see who else tagged the same resource as she, it is possible

to connect to that user’s profile and see her tags. It has been pointed out (Boulos

& Wheelert, 2007) that this process is very “social” in nature: people learn from

each other and tend to respond to others’ postings.

The discussion of Social Software would not be complete without mentioning one other

broad category: instant messaging (IM), although the categorization of this is more problematic.

IM is a de facto social software technology, and one of the earliest. However, while it has

some of the characteristics of Web 2.0, (ease of use, simplicity), technically it is not Web 2.0.

The mainstream IM applications are traditional software: most were developed by major

commercial software companies, using the old “developer to the user” paradigm. These tools are

often bloated with features users do not need. However, the usage characteristics of IM (i.e., how

people actually use them) are very similar to the other Web 2.0 technologies.

Social Software usage

By the second half of this decade almost all of these technologies have entered the public

consciousness, and many have achieved mainstream status among current Internet technologies.

While it is difficult to capture definitive statistics because the numbers are constantly changing,

it is without argument that social networking, file and media sharing, blogging, and instant

messaging constitute major online activities worldwide (Alexa, 2008; Klamma, Spaniol, Cao, &

Jarke, 2006). The ECAR (Caruso & Kvavik, 2005; Salaway et al., 2006; Salaway et al., 2007;

Salaway et al., 2008) and Pew surveys (Lenhart et al., 2007) mentioned earlier are consistent

with this also. The Pew report for instance estimated the penetration of these technologies

broadly at over half of all the population: instant message 68%, file and media sharing 57%,

social networking 55%. Only blog usage was rated lower at 28% (Lenhart et al., 2007 pages 8

and 26). The SPIRE project (White, 2007), while methodologically less sound, confirmed the

same general trends. The British Library commissioned study (Gunter, 2007) rated social

networking and user-generated content (somewhat smoothing over the differences in the

underlying technologies) as the two most dominant success stories of Web 2.0.

It is understandable that the dynamic growth in the technology adoption cycle amongst

the younger population highlighted by these studies, and the new “digital generational” models

discussed earlier have created a great interest amongst educators. It seems logical that the

perceived psychological and cognitive needs and abilities of this population, and the social

software technologies used by them, could be married to adapt for pedagogical goals. Over the

last few years there have been a number examples (Anderson, 2006; Beldarrain, 2006; Blummer,

2007; Bordeaux & Boyd, 2007; Chen et al., 2005; Gunter, 2007; Hall & Davison, 2007; Klamma

et al., 2006; Klamma et al., 2007; Minocha & Thomas, 2007) of educational applications of

social software. Leslie & Landon (2008) claimed that these phenomena were already past the

early adoption cycle. However, most of the literature on social software use in education is

theoretical and exploratory in nature. The next section is an attempt to distill these into a

functional taxonomy.

A taxonomy of social software

The review of the literature made it apparent that some kind of taxonomy of social

software technologies would be helpful, particularly as they are aligned with pedagogical and

learning theories.

McGee & Diaz (2007 p. 32) offered a broad, functional approach to the classification of

Web 2.0 applications. Their categorization distinguished five types of functionalities:

communicative, collaborative, documentative, generative and interactive. Examples of

communicative tools included blogs, podcasts and instant messaging applications. The main

function of these is to share information. Interactive functionalities include sharing of resources.

The examples were social bookmarking, and virtual communities (social networking was not

mentioned specifically, but it could have been slated here.) Collaborative functions serve the

creation of content in a shared environment. Examples would be group writing tools 8, and wikis.

Documentative functions were illustrated by tools that are suited for collecting and presenting

artifacts. Blogs would be the best example of this in the Web 2.0 context. Finally, “mashups”

Google Docs would be a good illustration of this type. See http://docs.google.com

were examples of generative tools. Mashups refer to an approach where various web services

(typically data) are combined from disparate sources to create a new application.

The functional approach of this taxonomy is appealing, because it is placed in the context

of the teaching and learning environment: “instructors (…) communicate, assess, observe,

present information and organize activities. Learners read, present a point of view,

search/collect/analyze information, create and respond” (p. 36). The limitation of this approach

becomes evident, however, when we consider that there is a range of other technological tools

available to support these activities, outside the sphere of social software.

Instead, a better approach would be to outline, distilled from the literature, the major

themes of how social software offers support for learning. These are below.

SSW supporting reflective learning. Reflective learning is considered a very effective technique.

Chen et al., (2005) described how reflection increases students’ awareness of what is learned,

and underlined the connection of this awareness with students’ self-regulation. Blogs and wikis

have been cited as primary SSW vehicles to support reflective learning. In contrast with, and

beyond the capabilities of traditional learning journals, blogs also offer mechanisms for peer

support to enhance learning (Hall & Davison, 2007; Windham, 2007).

SSW supporting resource discovery. The ability of social software (particularly social

bookmarking) to introduce a new paradigm for collaborative information discovery has been

noted (Alexander, 2006; Boulos & Wheelert, 2007). There are implications not only for students’

learning, but for broader activities within academia, such as for scholarly communication via

these resource sharing sites.


SSW supporting motivation. Students engage in learning activities for different reasons, ranging

from strategic ones (to get better grades), to meeting social obligations (meeting expectations of

their peers), to intrinsic ones, for example the “use value” of learning (Rogers, Liddle, Chan, &

Isom, 2007). A number of different theories are offered to highlight the role of social software in

this aspect of learning.

Various theories on “social ties” provide insight into a critical element of motivation in

the SSW context (i.e., what motivates knowledge sharing behaviours). Both strong and weak

social ties have been identified as drivers of how and with whom information gets exchanged

(Anderson, 2005; Benson & Gresham, 2007; Boulos & Wheelert, 2007). Social software is seen

as a novel means to control the dynamics of this exchange. Several types of SSW offer

mechanisms (ranking, rating, and reputation management) which support the creation and

maintenance of various social ties.

The motivational aspects of peer support and how SSW plays a role in this (primarily by

helping students develop self-identity) were discussed by Sandars et al (2008). Additionally,

support from social networks in the online environment may also have positive impacts on
student retention (Fisher & Baird, 2005).

The “power law of participation” (Bryant, 2007) is yet another theory that offer

explanation for what may compel students to engage in collaborative activities in an online

environment. This theory holds that social software tools have low thresholds for involvement

Even if no impact on students’ learning was demonstrated in this study

with certain individualized activities such as reading, tagging, and subscribing. At the same

time, they also contain built-in drivers and nodes that engender new norms of online behaviours,

pushing users toward more collaborative activities such as sharing, networking, etc. This is

almost a deterministic view. It would suggest that by introducing these tools in the (educational)

environment, an increase in collaboration would be observed. This theory has yet to be validated


The positive role of social software in the control of learning. There are different aspects of

control. The interaction between various actors in the learning environment is the central concept

in the transactional control theory of learning (Dron, 2006a; Dron, 2006b). This holds that

control is a continuum with teacher control on one extreme, and learner control on the other.

There are problems with both extremes: learners are not sufficiently knowledgeable to take full

control. At the same time they can be turned off when the teacher takes full control. Social

software can offer a solution by facilitating a “negotiated control”, or dialogue. This can be done

at least two different ways, either through tight linear control, based on text (wikis are a good

example) or looser, less prescriptive ways. Blogs, tagging, social navigation, and bookmarking

exemplify the latter approach.

Both blogs and wikis are perceived to be offering more freedom and flexibility in this

process in contrasted with traditional software (Beldarrain, 2006). At the same time these Web

2.0 tools would not serve the needs of administrative controls (e.g., legal requirements) well in a

formal academic environment.

Control may be considered in a broader environmental context also. This involves seven

major areas (Anderson, 2005): control of a) space, b) time, c) pace (of one’s learning), d) control

over media (or choice of learning medium), e) access, f) content (subject and style of learning),

and g) relationships (choice of who learners engage with in the course of learning). Social

software can be utilized for the management of these issues in novel ways. Virtual “presence

tools” in social networking for example can not only substitute physical presence and address

problems of space and time, but also offer help with issues of relationship and the subject of


Dalsgaard (2006) held a more skeptical (or agnostic) view on the issue of control. He

claimed that learning cannot be managed, only facilitated. Admittedly from a social

constructivist’s point of view, Dalsgaard stated that learning can only be effective if it is a self-

governed process, and social software empower students to engage in this activity (p. 5).

SSW supporting self-regulation. Self regulation is viewed as an important psychological

concept in explaining success in students’ approaches to learning (Entwistle, 2000). Blogs and

wikis have been used to facilitate these processes in collaborative settings (Chen et al., 2005;

Fisher & Baird, 2005). SSW tools were found to have positive influence on students’ self

regulation, in that they helped students take responsibility for their learning.

SSW supporting knowledge (content) creation. Content creation is one of the big themes of the

Web 2.0, as was mentioned before. The blurring of lines between consumer and creator is one of

the most striking phenomena of the Internet. The critical factors that made this possible were the

ease of use of Web 2.0 technologies, and the resulting large scale network effects. The

phenomenon has been both scorned as “mass amateurization” effect (Keen, 2007), and praised

(the “wisdom of the crowds” effect). Scholars and theorists of education generally tend to exhibit

a positive bias in this regard, at least from the point of view of constructivist theory. Ferdig

(2007) cited a practical example, describing how the creation of learning artifacts via SSW can

reinforce students’ learning, as these objects offer further opportunities for reflection or

discussion via SSW techniques. On the negative side, well-known issues with plagiarism and

intellectual property should be mentioned (Nicholas et al., 2007)

These major themes in SSW above are also discernible among the core concepts of a number of

contemporary learning theories. The following section reviews these theories.

Teaching (instructional) and learning theories

Generally the discussion on the educational application of social software tends to propose

some kind of a constructivist framework. Ferdig (2007) cites four distinct models:

1. Vigotsky’s social development theory (ZPD or “zone of proximal development”);

2. the pedagogy of active participation;

3. the centrality of artifacts in the learning process;

4. and the communities of practice framework proposed by Lave and Wenger.

SSW can be useful to support these models in a variety of ways: social networking tools are

suitable to support both the process of “scaffolding” central to the ZPD model, and the learning

community model. Collaborative authoring tools (such as wikis) mesh perfectly with the

pedagogical approach of active participation, while blogs are the best examples of SSW suited

for the creation of, and interaction with, artifacts.


One problem with constructivism is that the term can be vague and blur distinctions

between “deeper” and “shallower forms” of constructivism (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2003). The

authors held that most of the constructivist learning approaches (inquiry or learning community

based) fall somewhere in between these two extremes. The theory of knowledge building

proposed by the authors distinguishes between learning (viewed as an internal process), and

knowledge building. The latter is defined as advancing the knowledge of the community, and

this considers truly deep forms of constructivism. Social software technologies therefore are an

implicitly useful vehicle in this process.

In addition to constructivist theories, a number of authors highlighted the social

dimension of learning (Ebner, Holzinger, & Maurer, 2007; Rogers et al., 2007). Ebner claimed

that this social dimension is manifested through conversations and interactions, and that Web 2.0

technologies play an important role. Rogers et al. (2007) underscored the social/participatory

nature of learning along lines of the Lave & Wenger model. Specifically, learning is viewed as a

dynamic process of discovery where learning outcomes are contextualized and situated in

authentic settings. Web 2.0 principles thus inspire a 21st century learning model, called e-

learning 2.0. The objective of this model is lifelong learning. Key characteristics of this model

are collaborative teaching approach, curriculum dominated by community generated content, and

interaction driven by self-directed exploration and teamwork (p. 19).

Technology itself has influenced theoretical frameworks, as Beldarrain (2006 p. 147)

points out. He emphasized that social software, particularly blogs, wikis and podcasting can be

integrated to support these frameworks, such as situated learning and anchored instruction (the

latter is a form of problem based instruction, with emphasis on interaction). Other theories such

as Bandura’s social learning theory have limited applicability because its core concept, that of

modeling is harder to replicate in a virtual - particularly in an asynchronous - environment.

Siemens’ “connectivist” learning theory (Siemens, 2005) is chiefly driven by the

recognition that technology impacts learning in a fundamentally new way. The core tenet of this

theory holds that learning can occur outside of people, for example in organizations or databases,

(i.e., the knowledge created by people is “stored and manipulated by technology”). Contrary to

social constructivist theory that holds that learning happens by people engaging in meaning-

making tasks, the theory of connectivism maintains that the challenge is to recognize the patterns

of “meaning” which exists. One way to do this is by maintaining the capacity to know and to

connect ideas in the universe of knowledge. Technology, specifically that which supports social

networks, is an essential conduit in this process.

Other conceptions of learning expand the traditional boundaries of formal learning. Leslie

& Landon (2008) for example claimed that learning in organizations happens mostly informally

and that this requires a paradigm change in the instructional efforts toward a more open,

borderless approach. Social software is particularly suited to support this because of its attributes

of openness and scale. While institutions will still need to address some of the issues social

software presents, like those of privacy and intellectual property, the use of these technologies is

inevitable because the production of knowledge now happens in a networked environment

anyway. It is argued that the academy is no longer closed hermetically, because communities of

practice consisting of teachers, learners, researchers, etc., emerge through the affordances of

social software tools, spanning across the boundaries of institutions. Thus the traditional time

and space-bound educational environment - characterized by the triad or teacher, content, and

learner - is expanded beyond the formal one:

By combining the affordances of social software with the conditions of openness and
freedom that help them succeed, we have a chance to help learners become lifelong
learners, embedded in a real-life network that doesn’t disappear at the end of term or stop
at the ‘corporate firewall.’ (p. 21)

The notion that education can be defined in the traditional, formal framework was

challenged by Dalsgaard (2006) also. His approach is rooted in social constructivist theory, and it

views learning as a self-governed but primarily collaborative activity. Social software (wikis, file

sharing and blogs) it is argued, have the qualities to help the building of a true student-centred

learning model. For example, even though these are personal tools, they enable students to work

collaboratively, by supporting sharing of context and content, and connecting people with similar

fields of interest. While traditional tools, such as the learning management systems offer

somewhat similar functions, the range of those is more limited.

The theories describing the role of social software in learning parallel the broader

discussions taking place about whether learning is more about content or process. Sfard (1998)

described this dichotomy with two metaphors: The acquisition metaphor (AM) is grounded in the

more traditional conception of learning, with the notion of the transfer of knowledge in the

centre. The participation metaphor (PM) stresses the centrality of experience, and places the

process of discourse and communication in focus. For example, when mapping base concepts of

learning to the two metaphors in the AM, the goal becomes individual enrichment, and in the PM

community building. In the AM learning simply means acquisition of content, and in the PM

becoming a participant. The student: the recipient (consumer), constructor in the AM, and

peripheral participant (apprentice) in the PM. The teacher: provider, facilitator in the AM and

expert participant, preserver of practice/discourse in the PM. Knowledge is a commodity in the

AM and an aspect of practice/discourse/activity in the PM.

While Sfard argued for the need of a unified approach, educational theorists evaluating

social software tend to emphasize its qualities that are closer to the participation metaphor. The

following quote illustrates this perception:

In the medium term, we can expect to see social tools being used to help develop critical
skills such as networking, search and assimilation of new topics, sense making, pattern
recognition and decision making, as well as in the development of shared values. These
tools are about connections and context not content, in contrast to previous generations of
e-learning that were obsessed with ‘delivering’ ‘learning objects’ – an approach we now
understand is useful only for repetitive training. They are also highly contextual and
personal – they support learning as a process, not an outcome, and encompass a more
diverse range of learning and behavioural styles than perhaps any previous generation of
technology (Bryant, 2007 p. 18).

Social software – a disruptive technology

A common theme is discernible in the frameworks discussed above. The boundaries of

the academy have been thrown wide open. The exponential growth and shrinking half-life of

knowledge 10 means that the learning paradigm needs to change, that learners need to transform,

and become lifelong learners. This has two implications. One is regarding learning itself: what it

means, how it happens, and what is worth pursuing – in other words what should be the goals of

education? The other implication concerns the educational institutions. If so much of learning

now happens informally, often outside of traditional organizational structures, both in terms of

Varying estimates exist, depending the specific discipline or industry. Kapp & McKeague (2002) cited the general
rate of doubling at18 month.

space and time – how can higher education institutions respond to these challenges? These

problems are exacerbated by the impacts of technology. Even managing mature “sustaining”

technologies, which are designed for the formal educational framework, can be challenging. But

what happens when competing, vaguer, yet popular “disruptive” technologies start becoming

ubiquitous in the same space?

Following the theory of technological disruption illustrated earlier, social software could

be considered a de facto disruptive technology in the current educational context. For example

blogs are an illustration of the ease of use and low cost, low barrier to entry paradigm. They

enabled web publishing without the user needing to learn more complex web technologies and

languages, which were previously required for such tasks. Media and file sharing tools, instant

messaging, and social networking are all developments responding to user needs for greater

control over the use of technologies. The market dominated by traditional educational

technologies (e.g., learning management systems) could not identify such needs.

The disruption of Web 2.0 has been implicitly acknowledged by several authors

(Alexander, 2006; Bryant, 2007; Leslie & Landon, 2008). Alexander highlighted the low barrier

to entry characteristics of the new technology, Bryant pointed out threats to sustainability in the

existing technological model in education, while Leslie & Landon emphasized the strains on the

formal instructional model. There are more specific examples as well. Dalsgaard (2006)

addressed the issues with the LMS. Specifically, he discussed how compared to social software

tools the LMS is unsuitable for the self-governed activities demanded by social constructivist

approaches to learning. Others pointed out how collaborative content tools (prime example is

Wikipedia) and search engines 11 change information behaviours (Conole et al., 2008). This is

also confirmed in the study sponsored by the British Library (Nicholas et al., 2007), which

warned about the difficulties and challenges in simply trying to co-opt these technologies:

building a presence in MySpace and Facebook […] there are clearly dangers in trying to
appear ‘cool’ to a younger audience. In fact, there is a considerable danger that younger
users will resent the library invading what they regards as their space. There is a big
difference between ‘being where our users are’ and ‘being USEFUL to our users where
they are’. ( p. 16)

Based on the body of literature about the qualities in social software and Web 2.0

technologies, it appears there is a solid ground to make a case for their potential for education,

specifically higher education. Research on technology use in e-learning (Conole et al., 2006;

Conole et al., 2008) confirms that social software and Web 2.0 tools already form a huge

undercurrent in non-institutional technology use amongst students. Students value these

technologies because they view themselves in ownership, and because of the affordances of these

tools in terms of personalization and control (Conole et al., 2008 p. 519-520).

In summary, the review of literature appears to support a consensus that recent

developments in information and communication technologies have had a major impact on the

changing conceptions of learning in the twenty first century. At the same time, relatively few

studies have been devoted to the examination of the specific effects of these technologies

(particularly Social Software) in the new learning ecology.

Not technically in the Web 2.0 realm, although Google does employ Web 2.0 techniques such as factoring in link
popularity into its ranking algorithm.

Studies on the efficacy of social software in education

The literature on social software technologies, their role, and value in higher education

exhibit one or more of the following characteristics:

1. treat SSW as part of broader information technologies (Salaway et al., 2007; Salaway et

al., 2008)

2. descriptive statistical surveys (Kennedy et al., 2007)

3. focus on a single SSW tool and/or on specific learning environments (Sandars et al.,


The limitation of these approaches is that they make it hard to assess the value of social

software as a whole new breed or technology in the educational context. Very few studies ask

pertinent questions about the efficacy of these tools. Those studies that do however, are fraught

with sampling and methodological issues. We shall discuss them briefly.

Anderson (2006) described an online distance education course (n=12 students, who were

dispersed throughout the world). The author experimented with introducing several pieces of

traditional technologies and social software tools. The use of these technologies was optional –

students could freely opt in or out. At the end of the course, they were asked to describe how

frequently they used them, and to rate them for usefulness. Traditional tools like email, web

conferencing and Skype (VOIP) 12 were ranked ahead of wikis, blogs and collaborative

bookmarking. Anderson consequently saw the main value of social software tools in informal,

personal learning environments. It is interesting to point out that the main ranking criteria used

Voice Over IP – internet telephony application.

by students were costs (i.e., long distance telephone charges) and familiarity with the tools. Ease

of use and low costs are supposedly important attributes of Web 2.0 technologies, yet the former

was not an important factor in the students’ view.

The paper by Windham (2007) using case studies proposed a number of different working

models for the educational usage of blogs. Several possible outcomes were suggested: personal

growth, community building, and the enhancement of reflective and active learning processes.

While the cases are convincing, the paper does not discuss the qualitative differences (if any)

between the blogs and other more traditional tools. For example, Windham listed a number of

benefits of blogging, for example helping students to practice writing skills, interact with other

students, and controlling time. However, the paper does not offer any insights into how these

play out differently in the SSW environment from one supported by existing and accepted

traditional technologies, which may offer the same benefits.

An article by Hall & Davidson (2007) proposed looking into the blog technology's potential

for supporting interactions between students, and its consequences for peer learning and support.

The research was conducted in a hybrid learning environment implemented at a single UK based

institution. The study participants were recruited from a third year undergraduate class. Students

were mandated to use blogs: they had to keep learning journals using the technology. These

artifacts were content analyzed for three dimensions: degree of reflective nature of entries; the

propositional stance (agreement/disagreement with others students’ entries); and affective tone

(positive/negative). The authors’ theory was that in an ideal collaborative learning environment

the quality of reflective entries would be higher in the presence of positive affective tone and

disagreeing/challenging propositional stance. In other words, the quality of learning would be


higher if the content of blogs revealed evidence of peer support and critical thinking. The content

analysis of the entries shows mixed results. For example entries that scored higher on the

reflective content dimension actually manifested low level of affective tone (peer support

dimension), although the challenge (critical thinking) dimension was high. Thus the authors’

conclusion that “the blog environment encourages positive and productive exchanges” (p 183) is

somewhat suspect. The second conclusion of the study was that the analysis of blogs did not

generate enough evidence of its value as the tool for reflective learning, but this lack of clarity

was primarily due to methodological limitations.

The issue of student/peer support is also a centerpiece of the research by Fisher & Baird

(2005), this time in the context of a wider range of social software technologies. The authors

proposed to examine if there is a relationship between the sense of community created by what

they call “social media”, and self-regulation, retention, and student motivation. Based on the

reviewed literature, the hope was that in the social software supported environment these three

outcomes increase, and thus better learning will result. The authors used a mixed methodology -

a qualitative study and a case study. The study was the synthesis of the authors’ two years

experience of running online courses in a graduate level educational technology program. The

technologies employed included both traditional and social software: course management

systems, news groups, blogs, IM, and wikis. The courses were designed to induce technology

based collaboration, and the course goals, structure, and activities were aligned with this


The authors performed some content analysis on the artifacts produced during the course, but

they did not discuss this in detail. They primarily use students’ reflective entries to validate their

theoretical model, citing evidence of increased motivation and self regulation in particular. The

authors also cite evidence of self-organized peer support: students identified technology or

subject experts, and subsequently relied on them to help with their activities. 13 Some of the key

course outcomes cited were heightened levels of individual motivation (self regulation) and

accountability to the group. However, the authors acknowledged that increased social motivation

in itself is not an indicator of learning. This paper offered very little empirical data – except some

related to high retention rates - to support its claims.

Minocha & Thomas (2007) set out to explore the pedagogical effectiveness of the wiki 14.

They wanted to determine whether or not it facilitates collaborative learning in general, and

whether it is a “good medium” for collaborative learning in the specific educational context of a

distance education course (p. 197). They used qualitative research methodology, primarily based

on the content analysis of the artifacts produced during the course. The study was successful in

confirming the first research hypothesis, that wiki did facilitate collaboration.

For the second research question (i.e., whether wiki is a good medium) four supporting

themes emerged, around four qualities of the wikis: availability (synchronous and

asynchronous), facilitative, costs savings, and traceability. There were however limiting qualities

also: inappropriateness for discussion, no support for social presence, and no support for

management of tasks in the asynchronous environment. The authors’ conclusion was that the

This is analogous with the processes described in the theory of social ties.
The particular wiki tool was part of the Moodle open souse courseware system

wiki tool would need to be further developed or augmented with the inclusion of other

technologies, for example blogs, to overcome these limitations.

The paper by Chen et al. (2005) is the description of a research project that used wiki and

blog tools in order to facilitate reflective approaches, and to promote deeper learning. To this

end, the authors were interested to see if such approaches would be evident, based on both the

students’ awareness and articulation of what was learned. The research methodology included

the use of both qualitative and quantitative data, which was collected from interviews, surveys,

classroom observations, and artifacts. The study claims that students became more aware of their

learning, both in terms of knowledge gained and skills acquired. It also cites additional course

outcomes, such as increased student motivation and self-confidence. The authors however do not

discuss in detail the connections between the specific technologies and the reflective pedagogical

model they used for theoretical framework.

The studies reviewed illustrate the difficulties in measuring the efficacy of social software

technologies. Direct measures of learning were only attempted in the Hall & Davison (2007)

study. The majority of the studies were concerned with qualities that could be considered indirect

indicators, or proxies for learning, for example: peer support (Fisher & Baird, 2005; Hall &

Davison, 2007), motivation (Chen et al., 2005; Fisher & Baird, 2005), retention (Fisher & Baird,

2005), self confidence 15 (Chen et al., 2005), or collaborative qualities (Minocha & Thomas,


Itself contested measure: valued positively in Bandura’s social learning theory, but not supported by many
empirical studies (Gross & Latham, 2007; Maughan, 2001)

Based on these studies, social software and Web 2.0 technologies promise some efficacy

to support students’ academic experience and learning. However, further studies are needed to

understand the interplay of contributing factors.

Information Literacy
Information literacy is an evolving concept, which has many implications for learning in

today’s educational environment. The literature that examines and use of this concept promises

that measures of information literacy attainment are generalizable to other areas in academic

learning, cutting across narrower disciplinary boundaries (Jones & RiCharde, 2005).

Definition and background

The concept of information literacy has been increasingly important in higher education.

The ever accelerating pace in the creation of human knowledge and the need to cope with the

information overload, has underscored the importance of preparing students to meet these

challenges. Historically, this realization has been around for over thirty years (Maughan, 2001)

but it has particularly gained momentum since the 1990s, parallel with – perhaps not accidentally

– the advances in information and communication technology (ICT). These technologies

afforded an unprecedented growth in the amount of information. At the same time, they also

contributed to the fragmentation of information, which meant that access to the “right”

information became increasingly difficult (American Library Association Presidential

Committee on Information Literacy, 1989). While the challenge of the “information age” is

universal and broad, the ALA definition highlights its importance for education:

Ultimately, information literate people are those who have learned how to learn. They
know how to learn because they know how knowledge is organized, how to find

information, and how to use information in such a way that others can learn from them.
They are people prepared for lifelong learning, because they can always find the
information needed for any task or decision at hand.(1989 para. 3)

This recognition led the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) to

develop a set of information literacy standards for higher education. The aim of ACRL was to

define information literacy in the educational context, and to create criteria against which

students can be measured (Association of College and Research Libraries). In its definition of

information literacy, the ACRL emphasizes the universality and broad application of the


It is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of

education. It enables learners to master content and extend their investigations, become

more self-directed, and assume greater control over their own learning. An information

literate individual is able to:

• Determine the extent of information needed

• Access the needed information effectively and efficiently

• Evaluate information and its sources critically

• Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base

• Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose

• Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information,

and access and use information ethically and legally


(Association of College and Research Libraries, 2000 para. 5)

The ACRL developed five standards corresponding to these criteria. To facilitate

instructional development and assessment of information literacy, the standards have a

hierarchical structure. Each standard has a number of specific performance indicators

which can be used to for the development of learning objectives. For the purpose of

assessment, each performance indicator has a set of corresponding learning outcomes

(Association of College and Research Libraries, 2000).

Assessment of information literacy

Since 2000, the ACRL standards have been the basis of assessment for information

literacy skills at most higher education institutions in North America. While these standards were

developed by libraries, it is important to recognize that they are not library specific standards,

neither do they belong only in the domain of libraries. Rather, information literacy covers

universal concepts and it touches most aspects of higher education. This is illustrated by the

following quote:

The construct of information literacy can only be captured if it is treated as a broad set of
skills for the information-intensive society that most college campuses have become. It
includes skills across all psychological domains (cognitive, affective, psychomotor, and
conative), and the breadth of possible outcomes touches every curriculum and discipline.
(Jones & RiCharde, 2005 C-2)

Nevertheless, it was the library community, although often in partnership with other

disciplines in higher education institutions who generally became the custodian for the

development of these skills. Consequently libraries spearheaded the movement to develop


methods for the assessment of information literacy. Assessment can serve dual functions: support

skills acquisition and learning (Gross & Latham, 2007 p. 334) and accountability measures via

internal and external benchmarking (Dunn, 2002; Ury, Park, Baudino, & Ury, 2007).

These needs pre-date the ACRL standards (Maughan, 2001) but since 2000, most studies

devoted to the assessment of information literacy generally adhere to the ACRL framework. The

few that deviate from it do it for either pragmatic or philosophical reasons. Fiegen & Cherry

(2002) for example found it too complex and onerous to implement the ACRL framework to

measure the effects of instruction, and developed their own instrument more closely mapped to

course outcomes. Dunn (2002) on the other hand argued that the ACRL standards create a

tendency toward a more quantitative, more abstract bias, and that relying on them would not

necessarily reveal the complete picture. Schilling & Applegate (2007) certainly demonstrate

qualitative assessment techniques that can be successful.

Nevertheless, the dominant view is that the ACRL standards-based assessment of

information literacy is both sufficient for measuring competencies, and helpful for the purpose of

benchmarking institutional performance. This is illustrated by the wealth of assessment

instruments available that are at least partially based on these standards. Jones & RiCharde (2005

C2-15) describe eleven such instruments, with particular emphasis on three, as perhaps the most

complete ones: the Texas Information Literacy Tutorial (TILT); the Information Literacy Test

(ILT) developed by James Madison University; and the Standardized Assessment of Information

Literacy Skills (SAILS) by Kent State University. Of these three the ILT is the only one that both

provides individual student level information and has documented reliability and validity16.

The Information Literacy Test (ILT)

The ILT was developed at the James Madison University (JMU) specifically to measure

students’ information literacy competencies at the university according to the ACRL standards.

This standardized instrument was later modified for wider application outside the university

(James Madison University). The ILT is a multiple choice test administered online. It currently

measures four out of the five ACRL information literacy standards. The developers of the

instrument found that standard four (which is about students using information effectively)

would be difficult to measure in a multiple choice format (Cameron, Wise, & Lottridge, 2007 p.

231). Of the remaining four standards, greater emphasis is given to standards two and three

(respectively: access information effectively and efficiently and evaluate information critically).

About two thirds of the sixty items on the test measure these, while the rest is devoted to

standards one (determine the nature and extent of information needed) and five (understand the

economic, legal and social issues surrounding the use of information). Overall the test has a

reliability coefficient of 0.88. In addition, during the development of the instrument both its

content and construct validity was tested, and supporting evidence is presented (ibid. pp. 232-

233). The ILT is used by a number of universities and community colleges both in the United

States and internationally, in the UK and Hong Kong (Gross & Latham, 2007). In most

institutional settings ILT is simply used as an instrument for instructional assessment. Two

The SAILS tool is based on the concept of item-response theory and only provides aggregate level data. The
TILT combines a tutorial with assessment and does not have documentation on reliability and validity.

studies however, describe the use of the ILT tool as a research instrument. Gross & Latham

successfully demonstrated the application of the test in a research study investigating the

relationship of information literacy skills, students’ self assessment of competencies, and library

anxiety. Ury et al., (2007) described a pilot study at Northwest Missouri State University. One of

the purposes of this pilot was to determine if the ILT “could serve as a durable and

interdisciplinary measure of student information literacy competence” (p. 256). The study

demonstrated that the ITL yielded useful data to compare the performance of students

representing different disciplines.


In this chapter I reviewed the literature regarding the scholarship and research related to

the following themes:

1. Net Generation of students

a. Net Generation students’ approaches to learning and technology

b. Critical evaluation of claims about the Net Generation

2. Social Software as a disruptive technology in education

a. The theory of disruptive technology

b. SSW definitions and taxonomy

c. SSW within learning theory frameworks, and practical pedagogical applications

of SSW

3. The concept of information literacy and how it relates to learning.

Chapter 3 describes the research methodology and procedures used in this case study.

Chapter three – Methodology and Procedures

Context of the Study

The research was based on a single course taught at one laptop university located in

southern Ontario. The University strongly mandates the use of technology to support teaching

and learning in all its programs. With the learning management system (LMS) 17 at the core,

laptops and ubiquitous wireless access form the basic infrastructure of the learning environment.

The use of the LMS is mandated in all courses, typically to anchor a hybrid (or blended) learning

model 18, but the LMS is a central tool in the growing number of fully online courses as well.

Blended learning places emphasis on online interactions to augment and extend face to face

interactions typical in a lecture setting.

The institution tries to attract both students and faculty interested in technology enhanced

learning and devotes considerable resources to support teachers and students to succeed in this

environment. This is a strategic focus of the University. To achieve these goals, the university

has programs in place which include mentoring faculty to support learning innovation,

maintaining a technology-intensive learning environment, with particular focus on mobile

learning, and ubiquitous Internet connectivity. The University views the centrality of ICT in

teaching and learning as a key differentiator. For this reason, the faculty and students who are

Currently WebCT Vista, by Blackboard Inc.
Hybrid model refers to the use of ICT in both synchronously, in-class setting, and asynchronously where students
and faculty do not share the same time or space.

attracted to this university will have a high level of acceptance of the use of technology in


Since the literature often places the locus of use of SSW in distance learning/virtual

environments, the University provided an ideal location to extend these boundaries and to study

the potential of social software in a full featured university campus setting. The researcher is

affiliated with the institution and his familiarity with the innovative culture of University offered

reasonable assurances that he can secure support for the proposed research methodology.

Finally, two assumptions were made which justified the choice of this University as the

setting for the research. The first one considered the quality and skill set of the student body.

This assumed that due to its marketing and recruiting efforts, the university generally attracts

technology savvy students, whose skills and qualities are fostered in the teaching and learning

environment at University. The second assumption was that access to the technology was

virtually barrier free. While technology ownership has been steadily improving in most higher

education institutions across North America − for example Salaway et al. cite an average laptop

ownership approaching 80 % (2008) − these two student background characteristics at the

University promised to minimize the interference from the lack of these qualities. In other words,

in a pure technology oriented learning environment the analysis and comparison of the use of

two different sets of current technologies was easier.

The choice of the environment is also a limitation of the study. This research needs to be

viewed the context of this University, and the settings described herein. Also, the study

participants were a purposeful sample of students enrolled in one course that included the

teaching of Information Literacy skills. As a result, the applicability of the study findings may be

limited to such contexts. However, the findings do provide a deeper understanding of the use of

SSW in education in a similar environment, and they provide insights into the factors involved in

student use of SSW in post-secondary curriculum.


The research design

The study uses an exploratory, descriptive, quantitative case study. The focus of the study

was on the impacts of SSW on students’ information literacy skills. To this end, the experimental

model was used (i.e., to compare the impact of the use of SSW in information literacy

instruction with that of a traditional technology such as the learning management system). As

Creswell (2008, p 299) states, the use of an experimental model is justified when researchers

“want to establish possible cause and effect between independent and dependent variables” (in

the case of this study, the use of specific technologies and the information literacy scores). The

unique environment of the study institution provided an opportunity for such a design. However,

the particular situation did not support a true experiment. Creswell (2008. p 313) differentiates

between true and quasi-experiments. The latter “include assignment, but not random assignment

of participants to groups”. This is the only major aspect in which the two types of experimental

designs differ. The study situation required to use the quasi-experimental model, as will be

described in the following sections. In addition, two questionnaire surveys were used to collect

information on the participants’ views regarding the use and impact of SSW.

The research questions were the following:

Main Research Question:

How does social software impact the information literacy skills and learning of a sample of Net

Generation students at one laptop university located in southern Ontario?

Research Questions:

1. What is the nature and extent of SSW use among the participating students?

2. What are the participating students’ perceptions and attitudes about using SSW for


3. To what extent do these students utilize SSW for academic tasks in the context of

learning information literacy?

a. To what extent do they leverage the distinguishing features of these tools?

b. What are the barriers (if any) to using SSW in this context?

4. How does the use of SSW impact these students’ scores on the information literacy test?

5. How do the perceptions of the students who used SSW compare with those students who

did not use SSW?

6. Is there a relationship between the students’ perceptions and attitudes (RQ 2) toward

SSW and academic learning outcomes − as measured by the information literacy test, and

survey questionnaire (RQ 4 and 5).

The course selected for the study was a social science writing course at the University. This

course was an elective one, typically taken by students during their first year of studies at the

university, although a number of senior students take the course in higher years. The course is a

collaboration between the library and the social science faculty, and has a strong information

literacy component. In this research study, information literacy and its attainment measures

offered the foundation for the research design. This was justified because of the following


• Information literacy is about digital technology skills also. Critical examination of both

skill sets helps us understand and place in proper context the claims about the Net

Generation and examine the actual roles SSW can play in their learning.

• Information literacy is about skills to manage (find, retrieve, evaluate, use) information.

This is a very contemporary need. It is an overarching need: the degree of success in

attaining these critical skills impacts on students’ entire academic experience.

• Information literacy encompasses many different levels of learning, from simple recall of

fact to complex problem solving. As a psychological construct, it is a very good proxy

for the cognitive processes that constitute learning – thus lending validity to the

generalization of findings 19.

The course had two sections. This offered a natural fit for a quasi experimental design model.

Because of logistical reasons the random assignment of participants was not a viable option.

Instead, section one as a whole was designated as a treatment group and section two as the

control group. Students were assigned to their respective sections by the university scheduling

department. While the different instructional treatment applied to the whole class, only students

who volunteered to participate in the study were eventually included in the study. The details of

the recruitment and consent process are explained later. The study focused on the information

literacy component of the course, taught by library staff in the form of a series of five

consecutive sessions. These sessions were a combination of lectures and labs. This component

accounted for about 40% of the course.

The information literacy instruction in previous years employed a largely face-to-face

model, although Power Point slides containing the lecture materials were accessible through a

Admittedly in the absence of a true experimental model, this would be limited. As well, it should only be
considered in the context of the University.

dedicated website. The librarians (both very innovative and technology oriented) were interested

in the increased the use of ICT for the study and in a blended learning model. They were asked to

modify the instructional design so the treatment group would use a set of SSW tools to enhance

the learning experience. The control group was to use only the LMS as the institutionally

sanctioned technology tool. The researcher had no direct involvement with the course design or

delivery. The integration of ICT tools employed the following mechanism: after every class, the

librarians posted review materials, questions and assignments using the respective designated

technologies of the two sections. The details of these technologies are provided in the next

section of this chapter, titled “using the technologies”. Table 1 illustrates the mapping of

technologies in the course design.

Table 1. Course design

Treatment Group Control group

In class lectures and labs In class lectures and labs

Online resources accessed using SSW (class Online resources accessed via WebCT

wiki and class blog)

Online activities via SSW (class wiki, blog – Online activities via WebCT

additionally, unmediated use of SNS and SBT)

While the online tools were invoked during the classes, the completion of activities,

review questions and assignments were optional, and these were to take place between and after

classes. Because the technologies used were interactive technologies, this approach fit the

blended learning model.

Before the information literacy class sessions commenced, the researcher sent an

invitation to students to participate in the study. A copy of this letter is in Appendix A. At the

first class, students were asked to consent to participating in the study via an online

questionnaire. A copy of this is in Appendix B. The consent process is detailed later in this


Following, a base line standardized information literacy test (ILT) was administered to all

students. Students received participation marks for this test for a total course value of 5%. Phase

one of the study started in the middle of October with the first lecture, and ended in early

November with the last one.

Phase two consisted of a student self-study period. The goals, the structure, tools, and

activities of this second phase were explained to the students during the first phase. At the end

of November a second ILT test was conducted. Students were graded on the second ILT, and this

was worth 30% of their final marks.

Students who volunteered to participate in the study were asked to complete a second

online questionnaire, at the end of phase two. A copy of the second questionnaire is in Appendix

C. The pre and post-test questionnaires were designed to collect data to answer the research


The course is described in detail in the next section. At the request of the researcher, the

librarians agreed to use SSW in one section of the course and the LMS in the other section. The

researcher had no involvement in the development or delivery of the course material. As well,

the eventual instructional design was autonomously developed by the librarians who taught these

students. The researchers’ involvement included the selection and implementation of specific

technology tools for the Treatment group. By offering technical support only, the researcher

collaborated with the librarian/instructors in the setup of SSW tools for the classroom


Figure 1 visually illustrates the entire process of the study.


Figure 1. Diagram of the research process


Description of the course.

The information literacy series of lectures within the course were developed by two

instructional librarians at the University. The structure of these was built on the AACRL

information literacy standards framework (Association of College and Research Libraries, 2000).

The format of the classes employed a number of instructional strategies: mini lectures, in class

exercises, discussions, etc. This had been the format in previous years for this course.

For the current year two new strategies were introduced in addition to the methods used

in previous years. After each class, group review assignments were posted, which while not

graded, were hoped to spur peer collaboration through the technologies that were to be deployed.

Secondly, an assessment tool, the Information Literacy Test (ILT) (James Madison University),

was introduced. Assessment can be an important factor in learning - it influences students’ self

regulation and approaches to learning (Entwistle, 2000). In addition to being a pedagogical tool

in the course context, the ILT served as a key instrument in the research. The ILT (reviewed in

detail in chapter two) is a multiple choice test administered online. It currently measures four out

of the five ACRL information literacy standards. The test has a reliability coefficient of 0.88.

This test is widely used in higher education to measure students’ information literacy skills. 20

For this study, the use of the ILT instrument was therefore assumed to be a reliable tool

to quantitatively measure information literacy learning outcomes – a goal of research question

four. Both the ILT and the course used the ACRL framework for information literacy standards

The ILT test contains proprietary information and the researcher does not have permission to provide a copy of
the actual test.

in higher education, and beyond this no subsequent attempts were made to analyze the “fit” of

the ILT instrument within the specific course context. The ILT was used in both the Pre-Test and

Post-Test, offering a reliable means of measuring quantifiable changes (if any) in information

literacy scores.

Using the technologies

WebCT Vista is the learning management system at the University, and its use is

mandated. For the course, the LMS served mostly administrative functions: posting class

announcements, grade book, syllabus, and other course materials. In addition, the LMS was used

to manage discussion groups and assignments.

For the information literacy portion of the course these functions of the LMS could be

easily replicated using a variety of social software tools. Thus section one of the class was

designated to utilize SSW for the information literacy instruction portion of the class. Section

two was to continue to use the LMS. In designing this portion of the class the librarians

acknowledged that both the LMS and SSW tools were better technologies than the ones used in

previous years’ classes. Those were limited to using web pages to post copies of Power Point


The script of lectures followed the same pattern for both sections of the course. The same

librarians would hold the same lectures for both sections. Lectures 1,2 and 5 were to be delivered

by one librarian, 3 and 4 by the other one, in both class sections. Following the classes, lecture

materials and the review/discussion assignments were posted using the respective technologies.

The mapping of these technologies was presented earlier in Table 1.


Four major types of social software were considered for the treatment group of class:

blogs, wikis, social networking, and social bookmarking/tagging. To economize the amount of

involvement required from the librarians, it was decided that two of these, a blog and a wiki,

were used for librarian-mediated collaboration and discussions, while social networking and

tagging were unmediated, but monitored by the librarians. The main feature of a wiki is that it

allows collaborative editing of documents. Therefore it was ideal to ask students to

collaboratively come up with a shared answer to the posed review questions, thus continuously

improving on the quality of the answer. A blog was to allow for a dialog on the posted issues,

presented in chronological order. Additionally, the specific “social” features of both wiki and

blog tool could provide added value to the course. These features are described in detail in the

next section.

The class wiki.

The hosted version of PB wiki 21 was selected for the specific wiki software. While there

was an institutionally licensed local implementation of a wiki tool (Confluence) available,

PBwiki offered an advantage because it was openly accessible. The literature widely identifies

openness and the resulting network effects (i.e. the more people use it the more valuable the

content becomes) as one of the key advantages of SSW. A “silo” approach using a localized

version would have detracted from the authentic SSW experience (Leslie & Landon, 2008)


General features of PB wiki:

The core features of the wiki included collaboration (collaborative page editing, file

sharing, complete audit trail, commenting, email & RSS notifications), security (access controls,

page / folder-level access, IP whitelisting & blacklisting), ease of use features (quick setup,

search facility, point and click editor, tags & folders) and customization features (including

branding/logos, customizable templates, multimedia plugins and customizable HTML / CSS ).

User support was offered through both online help on PB Wiki and through the wiki

administrator, accessible via email.

A wiki on PB Wiki can be completely hidden from search engines, or it can be visible. In

either case, several levels of access control are possible. For the course, the base version of the

service was sufficient to balance the diverging needs for both openness and security. While paid

versions would offer page level security, it was sufficient to lock the security settings for the

entire class wiki on the same level. These were:

1. anyone (including search engines) had read access to the wiki

2. only approved people could edit the wiki

3. anyone could contact the wiki administrator for access to edit the wiki

Wiki Setup

Classroom accounts were generated and distributed in the first class. This afforded a

balance of anonymity and security. Student accounts followed the format “student1, student2,

etc.” If a student wanted to leave a personalized mark, they were instructed to sign their edits

with their initials, or first name. Otherwise the system would leave the audit trail in the generic

form of the name of the account. Each page had a page history button offering the ability to trace

versioning. To help with this process, users could subscribe to notifications (as frequently as

hourly) of changes to any page on the wiki. These notifications could be delivered via email, or

via RSS (real simple syndication, another SSW technology).

A course home page set up containing links to each lecture, and discussion

questions/assignments. Help pages and contact form to the administrator were created, as well as

outbound links to the other three social software tool implementations for the class. This method

of self-referential linking to the complementary SSW technologies was used on blog and the

social networking implementation as well.

Class blog
General features of the blog

The selection of the blog tool for the class purpose involved using the same approach as that

of the wiki. It was important that this tool resided on an openly accessible system. WordPress 22

is one of the most popular blogging tools, offering both locally installable versions of its

software (wordpress.org) and a hosted service at “wordpress.com”. Again, although a locally

installed version had been deployed and available at the University, this course opted for the


hosted version. In the fall of 2008 over 4.6 million blogs were hosted on wordpress.com. This

service offered the following features:

1. A blogging community: conversations can continue from one blog post to another and

through the comments. Aided by the “tag surfer feature”, this makes it easy to find

likeminded bloggers interested in the same topics and connect with them.

2. Tracking replies to comments

3. A feature called “pages” which allows to easily create web pages

4. Sidebar “widgets” for integrating additional external social software tools

5. Privacy options: a) completely public blog, b) a blog which is public but not included in

search engines or our public listings, or c) a private blog which only members can access.

Blog setup

The privacy settings for the class blog were set to be visible to everyone, including search

engines. Writing and posting pages was restricted to instructors, but students could use the

commenting/tagging feature on these postings. No student accounts needed to be created,

because Wordpress offered a relatively simple mechanism to allow users to comment. The user

was required to supply an email address for his/her first posting. This post needed to be

approved by the moderator (instructor), after which the system would recognize the email and

allow subsequent posts, without further intervention by moderators. The class blog, similarly to

the wiki, featured posts after every lecture, with links to the PowerPoint slides and discussion

questions. The blog also featured outbound links to the other three SSW tools, a help/about page,

contact features, and a Delicious (social bookmarking) widget which brought the most popular

sites tagged “information literacy” right within the blog. Users of the class blog were also

connected to the wider blogging community via tags and links to other blogs with similar topics


The social bookmarking tool.

General features

Social bookmarking software typically combines two key functions. Using a unique

personal account that is accessible via a web browser these services a) allow the user to save

URLs to internet based resources and b) offer the ability to share these URLs with other users of

the service.

Sharing and resource discovery is achieved through a variety of mechanisms. The most

typical example of this is the “tagging” feature: a user has the ability to freely classify an internet

resource based on her specific needs. The aggregation of these and other users’ tags is visible

across the network, and following these additional relevant resources can be found.

The second type of discovery route is user-based rather than classification-based. Once

likeminded users are identified via tag use, social bookmarking services enable these users to

join each others’ networks.

Setup of social bookmarking tool


For the class, Delicious 23 was selected as the social bookmarking tool. This service is the

pioneer of, and today one of the most mature of the social bookmarking services. It is a free

online service offering the key features discussed earlier. Once the user creates an account, a

personal area is created where the user is able to save URLs, tag them, annotate them, organize

them in folders, etc. There is a search facility to locate the users’ own tags, or to search across

the entire Delicious database. Tags can be bundled (by creating hierarchical categories) or

displayed by popularity/frequency of use (these are represented by visual cues, e.g. larger font

size). Delicious also offers a subscription feature to tags: rather than manually searching for

certain categories, this feature automates the process, similar to the mechanisms of an RSS feed.

Another feature is enriched networking capabilities: not only can network of people be created,

but reputational (rating) characteristics can be assigned to them. This is done by flagging people

(as “fans” or “mutual fans”). Bookmarks can be designated as private or public. Emphasizing the

social nature of the service, Delicious by default uses the public settings for new bookmarks.

In libraries the most typical application of Delicious is the creation of online reading

lists/resource lists. These are shareable via a simple URL syntax e.g. “delicious.com/library-

specific-name/folder-name”. The resources listed in this folder can be accessed by anyone with a

simple click. Additionally, once the user logged in to the service, these links can be saved in their

personal area, further annotated, tagged etc. This method demonstrated was during class lectures,

and students were encouraged to sign up for the service and start creating their own lists.


An alternative approach was considered but rejected. This would have involved the

creation of a shared class account. Here resources could be added and managed collaboratively.

The librarians however did not want to take on additional account management tasks. There were

some concerns about equity also. The instructors felt that unlike in the cases of the wiki or the

blog, students in the control group did not really have access to an equivalent functionality in the

LMS. Therefore the decision was made to make the use of Delicious completely optional and

unmediated by the librarians. The class wiki and blog tools however contained prominent

placement of links to Delicious.

Social networking.
General features

Social networks are probably the most popular and widely used services among all social

software applications. The history of Facebook is instructive in this regard. Originally created

for college students in 2004 (initially users had to have an “edu” email address to sign up for the

service), in 2006 the service was opened up to anyone. Students however, remained the core

group of users (Ellison, 2008) . The core functionalities in Facebook are typical of most social

networking sites: these are built around personal profiles, which serve as a nucleus for forming

personal “social networks” as well as discovering and joining additional ones based on shared

interests, aspirations, etc.

For the class, Facebook was chosen as the specific social networking technology. As a

popular and open computing platform, Facebook offers many extensions to other applications

ranging from games to productivity, or to library specific ones such as library catalogues.

Another popular library use of Facebook is creating book clubs, or other groups organized

around purposeful library activities.

Setup of social networking

For the class, the use of library extensions was eschewed based on similar grounds as in

the case of the social bookmarking tool. Because of account management, equity concerns, etc.,

Facebook was marketed as an optional tool for collaboration for the students in the treatment

group of the class. To facilitate this, an open study group was created for the class. The “groups”

feature in Facebook allows the creation of ad hoc communities, for usually a single purpose. At

the beginning of the classes students in the treatment group were invited to join this Facebook

group via links on the class blog and wiki. The group privacy features allowed it to be visible

and accessible on the entire Facebook network. The librarians were monitoring this group, but

were not participating in the activities.

WebCT was used by section two, the control group students. They were provided with

the same lecture material as section one. This was done the LMS “course material” feature,

which essentially serves as a repository of digital content. Additionally, the same review

questions/assignments were posted as for section one. This was done via the “discussion groups”

tool in the LMS. This tool resembles a classical bulletin board system where topics are organized

hierarchically by topics (or “threads”).


The librarians provided an introduction to the software technologies for both class

sections during the first lectures. Support was offered throughout phases one and two of the

study. There were no deadlines for the review assignments: these could be completed either

during the classroom phase, or in the self study phase. These review assignments were

purposefully designed to help students to prepare for the post-test ILT.

The consent process.

Prior to the first information literacy classes, the researcher sent a letter to all students

enrolled in the classes, to introduce the study and invite students to participate (Appendix A -

Invitation to participate in a study). The researcher visited the first classes to explain any

questions students had about the participation. The consent was part of the pre-test survey

questionnaire. Students who agreed to participate were provided with a link to complete the

survey, while those who declined exited the survey.

Data collection
Initially, 67 students were enrolled in section 1 of the class and 142 students in section 2.

For the study, 37 students consented to participate from section one and 78 from section two.

However, only 24 section one and 56 section two students completed the study, resulting in a

participation rate of 36 and 38 percent participation rate respectively. The blended participation

rate was 38 percent.

Two questionnaires were designed by the researcher to collect data. The pre-test

questionnaire was developed to gather data for research questions 1,2, and 6 (partially). This

questionnaire was issued to students before the first information literacy class. The second

questionnaire was designed to collect data for research questions 3 and 5. This questionnaire was

issued immediately before the second ILT test.

The copies of both questionnaires appear in Appendix B and Appendix C. The questions

were pilot tested by students at the University prior to the academic year. The questionnaires

were implemented using the online survey tool by SurveyMonkey24. This online tool had

several advantages, one of which was that it utilized a technique called “skip logic”. Depending

on the specific answer to certain questions, the student would be directed to the next logical

question. For example if in the post-test survey, the student answered “no” to the “did you use

social software since the classes started” question, they would be directed to the question about

what barriers they experienced, while those answering “yes” would skip this question. The

survey tool also utilized certain automatic error correction features, such as text validation, or

allowing only one choice on the ranking questions. While SurveyMonkey can use “force

answers”, the ethical review protocol did not allow the use of this technique: students could

refuse to answer any of the questions.

This resulted in missing data in a number of cases. The most serious was the omission of

students’ IDs which were necessary for the collation of information from the two surveys and the

two ILT tests, therefore a number of cases had to be excluded from the data analysis. The results


of the two ILT tests for the consenting participants and the two questionnaires were collated. The

data were imported into MS Access, and matched on students’ IDs. 25

While 115 usable cases were initially recorded from the first questionnaire, the final

number was reduced to 80. This was due to mortality (not all students who initially agreed to

participate in the study completed the second survey). As well, I excluded 8 cases where students

indicated on the questionnaire that they participated in classes in both course sections -

essentially switching between classes during phase one. 26 The final set of 80 represented 24

students from section 1 (36% of all students) and 54 from section two (38% of all section 2


The data were imported in SPSS 16.0, and were cleaned to eliminate duplicate cases,

invalid response values, or formats. On a few occasions follow up email was sent to participants,

asking to clarify intent.

Following the Ethical Review protocol, the student IDs were replaced with random numbers to ensure anonymity.
As well, the data was kept with the researcher in a secure location.
I cannot exclude the possibility that contact was made between members of the two class sections either in phase
one or phase two. (The data collected suggest that there may have been such cases, particularly in phase two.)
I need to note also that the Ethical Review Board at the University, based on their opinion that this would infringe
on students’ freedom would not grant me permission to ask my study participants to refrain from class switching
during the study period. I did not consider random assignment of participants to class sections for logistical reasons,
but it would not have cleared the ERB, based on the same principle. Therefore my study design can only be
considered quasi experimental at best.

The study consisted of a purposeful sample of students at a unique technology focused

University where this case study was conducted. Therefore the research findings should be

considered in this context. The issues of the small sample size, the quasi-experimental design for

part of the study, along with other limitations of the study will be discussed in detail at the end of

Chapter 5.

Chapter four – Findings

Profile of study groups

Eighty students completed the study. 24 students were in the treatment group and 54 in

the control group. Forty-seven of students were eighteen years old, and thirty-three were older

students (Table 2). The mean age of students in both groups was nineteen with higher variability

in the control group (Table 3).

Table 2. Eighteen year olds and older students.

Age group Mean age n Std. Deviation

18 year olds 18.00 47 .000

Older 20.39 33 1.713

Total 18.99 80 1.611

Table 3. Age by class section

Section Mean age n Std. Deviation

T 19.00 24 1.383

C 18.98 56 1.711

Total 18.99 80 1.611

Legend. T: Treatment group, C: Control group


Sixty one percent (n=49) of students were female and thirty nine percent (n=31) were male. The
ratio of females to males was four to one in the treatment group. The distribution of data is
presented in Table 4.

Table 4. Distribution of gender.

Section Gender

Female Male Total

T n 19 5 24

% within Section 79.2 20.8 100.0

% of Gender in the T section 38.8 16.1

C n 30 26 56

% within Section 53.6 46.4 100.0

% of Gender in the C section 61.2 83.9

Total Count 49 31 80

% within both Sections 61.2 38.8 100.0

Legend. T: Treatment group, C: Control group


Research question 1
What is the nature and extent of SSW use among the participating students?

Students were asked to indicate how frequently they use various social software

technologies. Table 5 summarizes the responses. The labels here are shortened, but on the

questionnaire these technologies were described using generic terminology: for example

“Delicious” was worded as “Delicious or other bookmarking/tagging tool”, wikis as “wikis

excluding Wikipedia”, Facebook as “Facebook or other social networking tools”, etc.

As seen in Table 5, the majority of respondents (90 percent) indicated frequent (i.e., daily

or weekly) use for Facebook or other social networking technologies (SNT). Wikis followed

with 33%, blogs 28% and social bookmarking tools (SBT) 17%. It is notable that 40% of the

respondents were not familiar with this latter concept. The high percentage of students (48.1)

who never used blogs was also somewhat unexpected, considering that this is one of the “older”

and higher profile social software (SSW).

These findings are consistent with the numbers reported in large scale surveys, such as

the series of PEW Internet Studies and the ECAR longitudinal survey of undergraduate students,

particularly the 2008 version.


Also notable is the almost universal adoption of Facebook and other social networking

technologies. This widely observed phenomenon has made this technology a focus of special

inquiry 27

Table 5. Frequency of use of different SSW technologies

Frequency Wikis Facebook1 Delicious2 Blogs

n % n % n % n %

daily 9 11.4 59 74.7 2 2.6 9 11.4

weekly 17 21.5 12 15.2 11 14.1 13 16.5

monthly 20 25.3 2 2.5 5 6.4 6 7.6

less than once a month 24 30.4 2 2.5 6 7.7 11 13.9

never 6 7.6 4 5.1 23 29.5 38 48.1

don't know 3 3.8 0 0 31 39.7 2 2.5

Total 79 100 79 100 78 100 79 100

including other social networking technologies
including social bookmarking tools

The literature considered these SSW technologies primarily as personal tools, in the

consumer/recreational sphere. I felt it was important to assess whether the students had any

Major longitudinal surveys, such as the ECAR series of undergraduate students and technology study recently
devoted several chapters to the phenomenon of social networking technologies in students’ lives (Salaway et al,

experience with them in an academic context. Generally about 20-25% of respondents reported

using SSW for academic purposes. As seen in Table 6, the use of wikis stands out at 59 percent.

Overall, it appears that among the study participants, the dominant use of SSW falls

outside of the academic sphere, although there is a moderate amount of academic use reported.

Table 6. Students indicating SSW use in past school work

SSW type n %

Wikis 46 59.0

Blogs 20 25.3

Facebook or other social networking tool 17 21.5

Delicious or other social bookmarking tool 15 19.0

Students were asked to rate their skills with the various SSW technologies. Students’ self

reported skills with the technologies rank Facebook and other social networking sites first, as

most students reported they were very skilled with the technology. Facebook was followed by

wikis, blogs, and social bookmarking tools. This is the same rank order as the one reported for

usage frequencies. The distribution of ratings is illustrated in Table 7.


Table 7. Students’ self-reported skills with SSW

SSW type Mean Median Percentile 25 Percentile 75

Facebook or other social networking tool 4.5 5.0 4.0 5.0

Wikis 3.3 3.5 3.0 4.0

Blogs 2.5 3.0 1.0 4.0

Delicious or other social bookmarking tool 1.6 1.0 0.0 3.0

Note. Skills rated on a 5 point Likert scale: 1 = not skilled at all with the technology and 5 = very skilled

Students were asked about how they used SSW technologies. This is summarized in

Table 8. Most students (87.5 percent) reported that they have a profile on Facebook - 40 percent

have a profile on more than one social networking site. Reading content on wikis was also

frequently checked – this is probably due to students including Wikipedia, which was not

explicitly excluded in this question. Just a little over half of respondents checked “reading

blogs”. A somewhat higher order interaction with this tool (commenting on blogs), was

indicated by 38.8 percent of students. However, only 12.5% of the students had their own blogs.

More involved/creative use of wikis such as content creation and editing was minimal. The

majority of the 24 students (20) who indicated ever using social bookmaking tools in the past

were using this technology to maintain their own links, as opposed to passively browsing other

peoples’ links.

Table 8. Types of usage among SSW tools

SSW usage type Use indicated

n %

I read blogs 42 52.5

I comment on other people's blogs 31 38.8

I edit content on wikis 4 5.0

I have my own blog(s) 10 12.5

I read content on wikis 58 72.5

I create content on wikis 3 3.8

I have a profile on Facebook 70 87.5

I have a profile on more than one social networking site 32 40.0

I maintain links/tags on social bookmarking sites 20 25.0

The distribution of different types of SSW usage counts is illustrated in Table 9. From the

nine SSW activities on the questionnaire, two students indicated no usage at all, while two

students indicated engagement with all nine SSW activity types. The most frequently occurring

number of usage was 3 (SD=2).


Table 9. Distribution of the SSW activities

Number of SSW usage type indicated n %

0 2 2.5

1 9 11.2

2 12 15.0

3 24 30.0

4 15 18.8

5 11 13.8

6 3 3.8

7 2 2.5

9 2 2.5

Total 80 100.0

In summary, students exhibited a moderate level of familiarity and skill level with SSW

technologies. From the four main categories of SSW, social networking technologies stand out

on their own. These are ubiquitous in students’ lives. Students are very comfortable using social

networking, but they are using it mostly in their private lives and not as much for academic

purposes. Social bookmarking on the other hand was the least adopted/known technology.

Research Question 2.
What are the participating students’ perceptions and attitudes about using SSW for


I asked students to rate four statements, which I derived from the literature. These

formed a matrix of the following dichotomies:

a) personal use versus institutional application of SSW

b) private, consumer oriented character (recreational use) versus learning

Table 10 illustrates these by grouping the attitudes toward the use of SSW for learning. As can

be seen from the table, social networking (Facebook) clearly stands out as category type of SSW

which the majority of students (87.3 percent) see as dominantly consumer oriented. Facebook

also ranked highest (59.7 percent) in the category where students are opposed to institutional

adoption. Wikis, on the other hand are viewed the most favourably as being capable of

supporting personal learning (64.6 percent), and for institutional adoption (52.6 percent). 28With

the only exception of the wiki technology, a greater proportion of students appear to be view the

suitability of these tools to support learning unfavourably.

A relatively low number of students provided answer for the SBT option

Table 10. Distribution of SSW attitudes

Views regarding the use of SSW Blogs Wikis Facebook Delicious

Item Responses n % n % n % n %

suitable for my PERSONAL use to Don't know 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0
help with studying and learning
Disagree 37 48.1 15 19.0 34 43.6 20 36.4

Neither agree nor disagree 16 20.8 13 16.5 19 24.4 16 29.1

Agree 24 31.2 51 64.6 25 32.1 19 34.6

Total 77 100.0 79 100.0 78 100.0 55 100.0

suitable in university classes to help Don't know 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0
with studying and learning
Disagree 38 48.7 27 34.6 48 61.5 23 39.7

Neither agree nor disagree 11 14.1 10 12.8 14 18.0 15 25.9

Agree 29 37.2 41 52.6 16 20.5 20 34.5

Total 78 100.0 78 100.0 78 100.0 58 100.0

PRIMARILY for my PERSONAL Don't know 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0

use and for fun
Disagree 25 32.1 31 39.7 8 10.1 31 53.5

Neither agree nor disagree 15 19.2 17 21.8 2 2.5 9 15.5

Agree 38 48.7 30 38.5 69 87.3 18 31.0

Total 78 100.0 78 100.0 79 100.0 58 100.0

should NOT be used as teaching tool Don't know 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0

Disagree 22 28.6 17 22.4 19 24.7 17 29.3

Neither agree nor disagree 17 22.1 27 35.5 12 15.6 13 22.4

Agree 38 49.4 32 42.1 46 59.7 28 48.3

Total 77 100.0 76 100.0 77 100.0 58 100.0


Table 11 illustrates that with the exception of social networking, predispositions for the use of

learning of specific SSW tools is related to the past use of these technologies.

Table 11. Comparison of usage frequency and views regarding SWW tools

Blogs Wikis Facebook Delicious

Percentage of users of SSW tools 1 35.5 58.2 92.4 30.8

Positive views of SSW for learning

% agreed that the tool is suitable for my PERSONAL 31.2 64.6 32.0 34.5
use to help with studying learning

% agreed that the tool is suitable in university classes to 37.2 52.6 20.5 34.4
help with studying and learning

Note: 1 at least daily, weekly, or monthly

Independent sample T-tests highlighted a number of differences between past users and non-

users of SSW tools regarding their potential use for learning.

Table 12 and Table 13 illustrate the significant associations. Past blog users had a more

favourable view of the suitability of blogs in university classes (t-2.576, p=.012).

Past Wiki users had a more favourable view of:

• the suitability of wikis as a personal learning tool (t-3.338, p=.001),

• the suitability of wikis in university classes (t-3.226, p=.002),

• the suitability of social bookmarking as a personal learning tool (t-2.162, p=.035).


Past Facebook and other SNT users had a more favourable view of the suitability of Facebook

for personal study (equal variances not assumed t-3.543, p.014).

Past Delicious and other SBT users had a more favourable view of:

• the suitability of social bookmarking for personal study (t-3.015, p=.004)

• the suitability of social bookmarking in university classes (t-3.461, p=.001)

• the suitability of blogs in university classes (t-2.105, p=.039).

Table 12. Past use of SSW and favourable view as a personal learning tool

Suitability for
Blogs Wikis Facebook Delicious
personal use to help
with studying and
Past n Mean n Mean n Mean n Mean

Rating of No 38 2.39 9 1.89 4 3.00 53 2.45

Blogs Yes 38 2.84 67 2.72 72 2.60 22 3.00

Rating of No 40 3.52 8 2.25*** 4 4.25 53 3.57

Wikis Yes 38 3.53 70 3.67*** 74 3.49 24 3.46

Rating of No 39 2.54 9 2.44 4 1.75* 53 2.75

Facebook or other SNT Yes 38 2.92 68 2.76 73 2.78* 23 2.65

Rating of No 28 2.64 7 1.86* 4 3.00 30 2.40**

Delicious or other SBT Yes 26 3.12 47 3.02* 50 2.86 23 3.48**


Note. Average rating on 5 point Likert scale.

*p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001

Table 13. Past use of SSW and favourable view of use in university classes

Suitability in Blogs Wikis Facebook Delicious

university classes to Past
help with studying use n Mean n Mean n Mean n Mean
and learning

Rating of No 38 2.29* 9 2.11 4 2.75 52 2.44*

Blogs Yes 39 3.00* 68 2.72 73 2.64 24 3.08*

Rating of No 38 2.89 9 1.78** 4 3.50 53 3.00

Wikis Yes 39 3.21 68 3.22** 73 3.03 23 3.17

Rating of No 39 2.23 9 1.78 4 1.75 52 2.35

Facebook or other SNT Yes 38 2.29 68 2.32 73 2.29 24 2.04

Rating of No 30 2.57 7 2.00 4 2.75 32 2.22***

Delicious or other SBT Yes 27 2.85 50 2.80 53 2.70 24 3.33***

Note. Average rating on 5 point Likert scale.

*p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001

In summary, students viewed SSW as primarily consumer oriented technology. Moderate

recognition of these tools for the support of learning was also in evidence (particularly regarding

the user of wikis), and generally corresponded with students’ past experiences with the same

specific technologies.

Research question 3
To what extent do these students utilize SSW for academic tasks in the context of learning

information literacy?

a. To what extent do they leverage the distinguishing features of these tools?

b. What are the barriers (if any) to using SSW in this context?

Both class sections indicated that they used SSW during the study timeframe (phases one and
two). All types of SSW use, both academic and non-academic, were included in this question.

As seen in Table 14, the proportion of SSW users in the control group (section 2) was much

higher than in the treatment group (section 1). Eighty percent of the control group users used

SSW versus fifty-four percent in the treatment section.

This timeframe was strongly emphasized in the questionnaire.

Table 14. Users and non-users of SSW in the study timeframe

Section n %

T Did not use SSW 11 45.8

Used SSW 13 54.2

Total 24 100.0

C Did not use SSW 11 19.6

Used SSW 45 80.4

Total 56 100.0

Legend. T=treatment group C=control group

While I expected SSW use in the control group, the high usage rate was unexpected,

particularly in contrast with the treatment group. However, the responses to the SSW use

question included both academic and recreational usage. The questionnaire included a set of

questions pertaining to the use of four SSW types (blogs, wikis, SNT, SBT) for two types of

academic tasks: tracking course content, and collaboration. Using the responses to these

questions, it was possible to filter the cases in the control group that indicated the use of at least

one SSW tool for academic tasks. There were 31 such students (69 percent) in the control group.

This underscores that SSW use in the control group was still relatively higher than in the

treatment group. However, we do not know what specific SSW tools were used by the control

group, and the overall percentages do not tell about the extent or intensity of academic use of

SSW in this group.

The questionnaire was designed to capture whether SSW and/or the LMS was used for

academic activities. It was anticipated that academic use of SSW (if any) in the treatment group

would involve the class tools on one hand, and other generally available SSW for the control

group in the other.

Students in both sections were asked to indicate academic specific activities, using a

yes/no checkbox on two questions:

1. I used the following software tools in this class to keep track of course


2. I used the following software tools in this class for discussions and collaboration with


The options for these two questions were generic: i.e., “blog”, “wiki” “Facebook”,

“Delicious”, and “WebCT “(rather than “class blog”, “class wiki”, etc.). This generic approach

was designed to capture SSW use (if any) from members of the control group, as it was plausible

that they could have been using other kind of blogs, wikis, etc., to support their learning. As

seen in Table 15 and Table 16, students from both sections indicated both SSW and WebCT use.

Table 15. Use of software tools in the class to keep track of course material/content

Software Section Yes No Missing

n % n % n %

T 6 25.0 14 58.3 4 16.7

C 10 17.9 40 71.4 6 10.7

Total 16 20.0 54 67.5 10 12.5

T 10 41.7 12 50.0 2 8.3

C 6 10.7 47 83.9 3 5.4

Total 16 20.0 59 73.8 5 6.3

T 8 33.3 14 58.3 2 8.3

C 9 16.1 41 73.2 6 10.7

Total 17 21.3 55 68.8 8 10.0

T 3 12.5 17 70.8 4 16.7

C 6 10.7 41 73.2 9 16.1

Total 9 11.3 58 72.5 13 16.3

T 22 91.7 2 8.3 0 0.0

C 51 91.1 3 5.4 2 3.6

Total 73 91.3 5 6.3 2 2.5

Legend. T=treatment group C=control group


Table 16. Use of software tools in the class for discussions and collaboration with peers

SSW Section Yes No Missing

n % n % n %

Blog T 2 8.3 17 70.8 5 20.8

C 14 25.0a 37 66.1 5 8.9

total 16 20.0 54 67.5 10 12.5

Wiki T 3 12.5 18 75.0 3 12.5

C 7 12.5 44 78.6 5 8.9

total 10 12.5 62 77.5 8 10.0

FB T 10 41.7 13 54.2 1 4.2

C 24 42.9 27 48.2 5 8.9

total 34 42.5 40 50.0 6 7.5

Delicious T 0 0.0 22 91.7 2 8.3

C 3 5.4 44 78.6 9 16.1

total 3 3.8 66 82.5 11 13.8

WebCT T 16 66.7 7 29.2 1 4.2

C 47 83.9 8 14.3 1 1.8

total 63 78.8 15 18.8 2 2.5

Legend. T=treatment group C=control group

Greater proportion in the control group

From these tables, I made the following comparisons.

1. Treatment versus control group.


As expected, the ratio of SSW users was generally higher in the treatment group than the

control group. One exception to this was “using blogs for collaboration”. However, according to

the Pearson chi square, this difference was not statistically significant.

Overall, a series of Chi-square tests revealed that most differences between the two class

sections were not statistically significant. The only exception to this was “using wikis for

tracking course content”. Here the higher usage reported by the treatment group was

significantly different from the control (Pearson Chi Square 10.908, df = 2, p = .004 level). Thus

the only difference between the treatment and control groups was in the use of wiki tools. This is

not surprising, considering that the class wiki was the most feature-rich in functionality and the

content was duplicated on the blog. I suggest students would have naturally gravitated toward the

tool that offered the richest user experience.

2. Comparing the choice of using or not using the tools:

i) More students tended not to use SSW in both groups

ii) The only exception to this was “Facebook use for collaboration”. Use and non-use

was more evenly distributed.

iii) students in both sections preferred to use WebCT

The high use of LMS for the treatment group is likely explained by the fact that WebCT was

the “go to” product in the larger course framework. Phase two of the study would have

overlapped with the LMS use. Conversely, the low SSW use could be explained by the fact that

the use of these tools was not mandated and enforced.


In summary, the data provided some evidence that if students were exposed to using

SSW in the instructional environment, they tended to adopt it for academic tasks to a degree.

However, the rate of adoption was not high.

RQ3a.To what extent do they leverage the distinguishing features of these tools?

Among the key distinguishing features of social software is the ability to connect people

across the boundaries of space and time, based on users’ “profiles”. These profiles offer

serendipitous discovery of commonalities between users of SSW, such as interests, background,

affiliations, etc. The literature (Leslie & Landon, 2008) emphasizes the global nature of SSW

and its power to break down institutional “silos”.

Two questions were asked to assess the extent to which these features were leveraged

among the study participants. One of these questions asked students to rate the degree to which

the technologies helped them to connect with other students in the course, and the other one

asked them to rate the degree to which these tools helped to connect them with other resources

and people beyond the course context. In addition, students were asked to rate the general utility

of the software used in terms of time management and organization features.

The analysis of the data suggested a trend of higher rating of two aspects of these features

amongst students who did not report SSW use during the study. These students tended to feel

that the software tools used helped to manage their time better, and that they helped to connect to

other resources, people or material beyond the course. None of the differences were significant

however, using T-tests.


There were no statistically significant differences when the ratings of these four aspects

of the technologies were compared for SSW users and non-users in isolation within the treatment

and control groups. In the treatment group, SSW users appeared generally more appreciative

than non-users on one distinguishing SSW feature. The mean rating difference on the “software

enabled to make connections with others” was 0.8 but the p value (.086) in not low enough to be

significant. In the control group, the tendency appeared to be the reverse, with non-users rating

distinguishing SSW features nominally higher. However, since these differences were not

statistically significant, the only conclusion that can be drawn from the data is that students who

were SSW users did not leverage the distinguishing features of SSW - or at least did not

recognize that they did.

Two practical explanations could be offered for the statistical equivalency:

(1) SSW users may have used SSW in a superficial manner. This has been mentioned

in the literature (Siemens, 2007). Such narrow use could have resulted in these

students rating the more advanced features of SSW comparatively lower.

(2) Non-users of SSW might have been happier with the technology, essentially with

the LMS, and this may have biased their ratings on features of software that was

not really present in the LMS.

In summary, I conclude that students did not utilize the distinguishing features of SSW

which would have expanded their horizons beyond the class context. For example no network

effects were created or achieved.


RQ3b. What are the barriers (if any) to using SSW in this context?

Twenty-two students (11 in each section) indicated no SSW use in phases one or two of

the study. They were asked to check the main reasons. Table 17 below summarizes the results.

Students were able to check more than one option and a total of 46 options were selected.

Table 17. Reasons for not using SSW in the study

Option choices: Treatment group1 Control group2

%(n) %(n)

1. not required to use them for the class 73(8) 45(5)

2. I don’t like to use them 36(4) 64(7)

3. don’t believe they were appropriate tools for this class 18(2) 45(5)

4. It takes too much time/effort 36(4) 27(3)

5. I am not very skilled with them/difficult to use 27(3) 18(2)

6. technical difficulties 9(1) 18(2)

Notes. 1, 2. Percentages calculated for n=11 students not using SSW in this group

A high number of SSW non-user students (seventy-three percent) within the treatment

group said this was not a requirement. This is consistent with the earlier observation that in the

absence of making use of these tools mandatory, students might not be inclined to use SSW,

unless other positive factors are present.


Thirty-six percent of the non-SSW users in the treatment group indicated a general dislike of

these tools, and the same percentage felt that it took too much time and effort to use them. Lack

of skills and technical difficulties were less of a factor. The appropriateness of the tools for the

class was questioned by eighteen percent of students in the treatment group and forty-five

percent of non-SSW users in the control group. This suggests that once students were exposed to

SSW in the class context, they viewed this as less of a barrier than their counterparts in the

control group. However, according to the Pearson chi-square test this difference was not

statistically significant (p=.170), which was no doubt influenced by the small sample size. A

series of chi-square tests performed on the other options did not reveal any difference between

the two sections either, confirming that in terms of barriers to SSW use, there was no difference

between the treatment and the control groups. 30

There were only three open format comments, one indicating privacy concerns, one basically restating option 3, and one option 4)

Research question 4

How does the use of SSW impact these students’ scores on the information literacy test?

No difference was found between the treatment and the control group in either the pre-

test information literacy (ILT) scores or the post-test. As illustrated in Table 18, the difference

of the means of the pre-tests scores was less than a half percent in the pre-test, and while the

score gap widened in the post-test in favour of the control group, this was not statistically

significant. This suggests that the different instructional treatment for the two groups did not

result in different academic performance as measured by the ILT scores.

Table 18. Mean ILT scores by class section

Test Section n Mean SD


Pre-test ILT T 24 63.75 8.14

C 56 64.14 12.40

Post-test ILT T 24 72.71 7.43

C 56 75.29 9.87

Legend. T=treatment group C=control group


Both groups, however, improved their respective test scores from the pre-test to post-test.

As illustrated in Table 19, which compares the pre-test and post-test scores of the Treatment and

Control groups respectively, the differences are statistically significant (Mean differences of 8.96

and 11.5 percentage points for the two groups respectively, p=.000). This suggests that the

instruction itself and/or students’ self-study played a positive role in academic achievement as

evidenced in ILT scores.

Table 19. T-test of paired samples of pre-test and post-test ILT scores

Section Paired Differences: Pre and Post-test ILT scores

Mean Std. Std. t df Sig. (2-tailed)

differences Deviation Error Mean

T 8.96 7.69 1.57 5.71 23 .000

C 11.15 10.28 1.37 8.11 55 .000

Legend. T=treatment group C=control group

The score gain (from pre-test to post-test) of 8.96 points in the treatment group was not
significantly different from the gain of 11.15 points in the control group.

When all SSW users were compared with non-users regardless of class sections, they

achieved 6.3 percentage point higher scores on the post ILT test, which is statistically significant

(t-3.048, p=.004). The pre-test scores for these two groups of students were no different. These

scores are detailed in Table 20.


Table 20. Mean ILT scores by use of SSW

Test SSW use n Mean SD


Pre-test No 22 63.18 8.83

Yes 58 64.34 12.09

Post-test No 22 69.91** 7.99

Yes 58 76.26** 9.14

** p<.01

The gain (11.9 point) in scores of SSW users was also significantly different from the gain (6.7

point) of non-users (t -2.217, p = .030)

It was surprising however, to find that SSW user students in the control group contributed

more to this outperformance. As illustrated in Table 21, when the class sections were split based

on whether or not they reported using SSW in the study period, the 7.6 percentage point mean

difference in the control group between the post-test scores of SSW users and non-users was

statistically significant (t-2.383, p=.021). While SSW users in the treatment group also had on

average 3.8 points better scores than non-users, this difference was not statistically significant.

This is corroborated when comparing the point gains from pre-test ILT scores to post-test: SSW

users gained more in both groups than non-users. In the treatment group, the gain of SSW users

was eighty percent more than non-users (gain of 11.26 versus 6.24), and sixty-eight percent

higher in the control group (12.11 versus 7.21). However, this was statistically significant only in

the control group (t-2.261, p= .029).

Table 21. Mean ILT scores by class section and by use of SSW

Section Test SSW n Mean SD

use score

T Pre-test No 11 64.39 8.28

Yes 13 63.21 8.32

Post-test No 11 70.64 7.72

Yes 13 74.46 6.98

C Pre-test No 11 61.97 9.60

Yes 45 64.67 13.04

Post-test No 11 69.18* 8.55

Yes 45 76.78* 9.67

Legend. T=treatment group C=control group


It must be noted that the outperformance of SSW users in the control group is relative to

the non-users of SSW within their own class section. When SSW users in the treatment section

are compared with the control section, there is no statistically significant difference (Table 22).

Table 22. ILT scores of ONLY SSW users by class sections

Test Section n Mean SD


Pre-test T 13 63.21 8.318

C 45 64.67 13.039

Post-test T 13 74.46 6.983

C 45 76.78 9.674

Legend. T=treatment group C=control group

In summary, the treatment of using institutionally sanctioned SSW in the course did not

result in evidence of different test scores in the post-ILT test, relative to the control group. Only

slightly more than half of the treatment group students confirmed that they submitted to the

treatment, resulting in a very small sample of 13 students on which the analysis could be based.

SSW use was associated with significantly better scores for the population overall, and in the

control group. While the performance of students submitting to the treatment was not better than

those in the control group, it was not worse either. Non-sanctioned SSW use however in the

control group appeared to make a significant difference.

The data were analyzed to determine if there were any variables and factors that show

variance between groups, and explain why the SSW users in the control group had higher scores

relative to non-users within their own group.


From the data collected, a number of demographic and other factors were considered for

comparison. Table 23 summarizes the groups of factors pointing to significant differences. As

seen from this, independent sample t-tests comparing all SSW users with the non-users, revealed

the following:

a) Studying after the class ended (frequency measure): SSW users studied more frequently

b) Frequency of Facebook use (pre-test)—SSW users used more frequently

c) Self reported skills with social networking tools (pre-test)—SSW users reported higher

skills. The mean difference was 0 .769 (t= 2.279, p= .031)

d) Students’ age — SSW users were older (mean difference of 0.861, t= 3.135, p= .002)

e) A fifth factor, gender, while not statistically significant, also showed variances

(proportionally more males used SSW than females)

The studying after the class ended variable was statistically significant also when only the

treatment group users and non-users were compared. The frequency of social networking use,

skills with social networking and students’ age were statistically significant also when only the

control group users and non-users were compared.


Table 23. T-test on potential factors explaining performance: all SSW users versus non-


Factors and variables used SSW n Mean SD

studying between library instruction classesa No 22 1.77 .752

Yes 58 1.84 .670

time spent studying between library instruction classes No 12 3.21 4.27

Yes 41 2.68 2.05

studying for ILT after classes endeda No 22 2.27*1 1.08

Yes 58 2.81* .805

time spent for ILT studying No 15 3.47 3.89

Yes 54 3.31 2.22

frequency-Facebookb2 No 22 2.27*** 1.64

Yes 57 1.18*** .38

skill-Facebook No 22 3.91** 1.51

Yes 56 4.68** .76

age No 22 18.36** .66

Yes 58 19.22** 1.80

sum of use types No 22 3.45 1.44

Yes 58 3.34 1.88

4 point frequency scale – higher number indicates higher frequency
Pearson Chi-Square=8.25, df=3, p= .041
5 point frequency scale – lower number indicates higher frequency
Pearson Chi-Square=23.13, df=4, p= .000
*p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001

Later, I examine these significant factors in more detail.


The nearly one year difference in students’ age could be important: higher year university

students should have a distinct advantage over first year students in terms of information literacy

skills and computing skills. Theoretically, those participants who were from higher years, and

had been attending previous university classes, would have been exposed to tasks involving

research, writing papers, etc.

Unfortunately the questionnaire did not ask for students’ grade level. While the majority

of students in the course were freshmen, anecdotally I knew that there were students in later

years of university taking the course. Assuming that students who were eighteen years of age

came straight from high school, I recoded age to two proxy measures for grade levels: 18 year

olds were coded to “1st year” and all other students to “other” (assumed higher years). This

reclassification in itself did not explain students’ choice of using (or not using) SSW during the

study period. The Pearson chi square (2.446 df=1, p =.118) showed no difference between these

theoretical grade levels and SSW use.

The same is true when looking at class sections in isolation. As illustrated in Table 24 in

the control group, among those who did not use SSW a high proportion were 1st year students

(82%) 31. The same metric for the treatment group showed a somewhat more balanced

Earlier it was shown that differences between ILT scores of SSW users and non-users were the most pronounced
in the control group.

distribution: only 64% of 1st year students were in the non user group. However the Pearson Chi

Square did not find these differences statistically significant. The P values were .392 and .114


Table 24. Crosstab of SSW users/ non-users and class standing, by class section

Section Used SSW Year of study

1st year Other Total

T No n 7 4 11

% 63.6 36.4 100.0%

Yes n 6 7 13

% 46.2 53.8 100.0%

Total n 13 11 24

% 54.2 45.8 100.0%

C No n 9 2 11

% 81.8 18.2 100.0%

Yes n 25 20 45

% 55.6 44.4 100.0%

Total n 34 22 56

% 60.7 39.3 100.0%

Legend. T=treatment group C=control group


The actual ILT scores of theoretically higher class standing students were higher when

compared with first year students overall. Both pre and post-test scores were higher; in the case

of post-test the difference was statistically significant. (Mean difference -4.234043, T -2.059352,

p=.043) Table 25 presents the corresponding data.

This pattern is the same when the comparison is isolated within the respective class sections

(statistically significant on the post-test, in the treatment group (mean difference = -7.252, t -

2.686, p=.014) Table 26 presents the corresponding data.

The pattern is also the same when SSW users and non-users are isolated. (Statistically significant

in both pre and post ILT tests, amongst non-users. The pre-test mean difference was -9.757, (t -

2.606, p=.017), and the post-test mean difference was -8.146, (t -2.348, p=.029) Table 27

presents the corresponding data.

The analysis of the data revealed that the differences in information literacy skills of the

eighteen year olds and the other students in the study were pre-existing, and that these

differences stayed about the same at the end of the study. There was a slight performance gap in

score gains in the treatment group (7.8 percentage gain of the eighteen year olds versus 10.3

percentage gain of older students) but this difference was not statistically significant.

Table 25. Average ILT scores by year of study

Test Year of study n Mean Mean Difference Std. Deviation


Pre-test 1st year 47 62.41 -3.902 11.04

other 33 66.31 11.30

Post-test 1st year 47 72.77 -4.234* 9.22

other 33 77.00 8.81

Note. *p<.05

Table 26. Average ILT scores by course section and year of study

Class Test Year of study n Mean Mean Difference Std. Deviation

Section Score

T Pre-test 1st year 13 61.54 -4.825 5.71

other 11 66.36 9.97

Post-test 1st year 13 69.38 -7.252* 6.18

other 11 76.64 7.05

C Pre-test 1st year 34 62.75 -3.543 12.56

other 22 66.29 12.14

Post-test 1st year 34 74.06 -3.123 9.92

other 22 77.18 9.72

. T=treatment group C=control group


Table 27. Average ILT scores by SSW use and theoretical class standing

used SSW Test Year of study n Mean Mean Difference Std. Deviation


No Pre-test 1st year 16 60.52 -9.757* 8.14

other 6 70.28 6.78

Post-test 1st year 16 67.69 -8.146* 7.55

other 6 75.83 6.24

Yes Pre-test 1st year 31 63.39 -2.045 12.29

other 27 65.43 12.00

Post-test 1st year 31 75.39 -1.872 9.00

other 27 77.26 9.36

Note. *p<.05

SSW skills

While the study did not actually measure SSW skills, data which can be used as a proxy

were collected. The pre-test questionnaire asked students to self-rate their skills with the four

different generic SSW technologies that were used in the study later. As was demonstrated

earlier in Table 23, when grouped on their use of SSW in the study period, the data showed one

statistically significant difference: students who subsequently used SSW during the study period

rated their skills with social networking technologies significantly higher than those who did not

end up using SSW.

This difference was significant in the control group. Students eventually using SSW in

this group rated their skills with social networking technologies on average 1.25 higher than

those students who did not use SSW (t -2.386, df = 11.038, p.036) No differences were found

between other groups of skills. While this difference was significant with only one of the four

SSW technologies considered for the class (Facebook), this technology is the most dominant one

in terms of frequency of use. Table 28 illustrates this.

Table 28. Frequency of use of SSW technologies before the study.

Frequency Treatment Group Control Group.

n Mean a n Mean a

Facebook (SNT) 24 1.54 55 1.45

Wikis 24 3.46 55 2.98

Blogs 24 4.04 55 3.67

Delicious (SBT) 24 5.00 54 4.52

Note. a Five point frequency scale, lower number indicating more frequent usage.

To test whether skills with SSW technologies could be an important factor in academic

success, the post-ILT scores were re-coded to three categories: low, medium and high scores

(low 0-69, medium 70-80, and high 81-100). The cut-off values were determined according to

the distribution of scores (using the 33, 66, and 100 percentiles). While this is method is

somewhat arbitrary for the determination of proficiency levels on ILT, the actual score values

generally align with those previously used in the literature (Gross & Latham, 2007; Ury et al.,


After the ILT scores were recoded to the three proficiency bands, a one-way ANOVA

test was performed. However, this revealed that there is no relation between self-reported skills

with SSW and eventual ILT scores, as the differences were not statistically significant. Table 29

illustrates that in fact in some cases the average rating of skills was higher for students who

subsequently performed low on the test.

Table 29. Distribution of SSW skills according to ILT scores (low-medium-high)

SSW type Post-test ILT score n Mean rating SD

bands of skills

Facebook low 23 4.39 1.340

medium 31 4.35 1.142

high 24 4.67 .637

Wikis low 23 3.04 1.894

medium 31 3.10 1.423

high 24 3.67 1.090

Blogs low 23 2.48 1.592

medium 32 2.28 1.571

high 24 2.79 1.719

Delicious low 23 1.87 1.740

medium 32 1.38 1.699

high 24 1.71 1.899



Chi square statistical tests were performed to analyze whether there was any variability

between genders in the choice of utilizing SSW. The cross tabulation of the data is presented in

Table 30.

Although an overwhelming majority of males (84%) used SSW versus females (65%) the

difference was not statistically significant (Pearson Chi square value 3.282, df=1, p .070)

Table 30. The distribution of SSW users/non-users and gender.

Gender used SSW since pre-test

No Yes Total

Female n 17 32 49

% within Gender 34.7% 65.3% 100.0%

Male n 5 26 31

% within Gender 16.1% 83.9% 100.0%

Total n 22 58 80

% within Gender 27.5% 72.5% 100.0%


There was significant variability between genders however in another important aspect.

Specifically, male non-users achieved lower ILT scores in the post-test.

The mean difference in the final ILT scores (8.8 percentage point) between male SSW

users and non-users was significant (t-2.277, p=.03). The difference in female SSW user and

non-user scores was not statistically significant. The underlying data is represented in Table 31.

Table 31. ILT score distribution of SSW users and non-users within gender

Gender Test used SSW n Mean Std. Deviation


Female Pre-test ILT No 17 62.75 9.591

Yes 32 64.11 12.255

Post-test ILT No 17 69.88 8.922

Yes 32 74.19 9.327

Male Pre-test ILT No 5 64.67 6.169

Yes 26 64.62 12.123

Post-test ILT No 5 70.00* 4.062

Yes 26 78.81* 8.376

Note. *p<.05

Research question 5

How do the perceptions of the students who used SSW compare with those students who

did not use SSW?

To collect data to answer this question, students were asked to rate the degree of their

agreement on four statements.

a) My understanding of the concepts and topics covered in the library classes has increased

b) I feel better prepared to research topics, and present findings in future university classes

c) The use of technology tools in this course made it more interesting

d) Collaboration with others furthered my understanding of the topics in this course

A series of t-tests on these variables showed no statistically significant differences, when

1. Comparing the treatment group with the control group

2. Comparing SSW users and non-users within each course sections

3. Comparing all SSW users and non-users.

Table 32 shows that the largest mean differences were between the treatment group and the

control group on the “collaboration furthered my understanding” (d) question, and Table 33

highlights a large mean difference within the treatment group, between users and non-users of

SSW on the “my understanding increased” (a) question. However, the p level was not significant

in either case (p=.067 and .188 respectively). While the differences are not statistically

significant, it must be noted that the SSW users in the treatment group consistently rated all four

outcomes higher (Table 33).

Table 32. Perceptions of learning - by class section

Perceptions of learning Section n Meana SD

Understanding of topics increased T 24 4.17 1.129

C 53 4.08 1.071

Feels better prepared for future classes T 23 3.91 1.164

C 52 3.98 1.321

The use of technology made the course more interesting T 23 3.48 0.898

C 52 3.88 1.060

Collaboration with others furthered my understanding of the topics in this course T 23 3.09 1.164

C 52 3.62 1.123

Legend. T=treatment group C=control group

Five point Likert scale

Table 33. Perceptions of learning – by class sections and by users/non-users of SSW

Section Perceptions of learning used n Meana SD


T Understanding of topics increased No 11 3.82 1.328

Yes 13 4.46 0.877

Feels better prepared for future classes No 10 3.60 1.265

Yes 13 4.15 1.068

The use of technology made the course more interesting No 10 3.40 0.843

Yes 13 3.54 0.967

Collaboration with others furthered my understanding of the topics in No 10 3.10 1.101

this course
Yes 13 3.08 1.256

C Understanding of topics increased No 11 4.36 1.027

Yes 42 4.00 1.082

Feels better prepared for future No 10 3.80 1.619

Yes 42 4.02 1.259

The use of technology made the course more interesting No 10 3.60 1.174

Yes 42 3.95 1.035

Collaboration with others furthered my understanding of the topics in No 10 3.30 1.337

this course
Yes 42 3.69 1.070

Legend. T=treatment group C=control group

Five point Likert scale

Learning perceptions were subsequently recoded on a dichotomous scale: those who

somewhat or strongly agreed with the four statements were categorized as having positive stance,

versus those with neutral or disagreeing stance. Comparing the learning perceptions using this

scale revealed one statistically significant difference, between all SSW users and non-users. The

Pearson chi-square test (4.979, df = 1, p.026) showed that SSW users viewed the “technology

made the course more interesting (question C)” aspect of their learning more positively. The

non-users were more evenly split on this. The distribution of opinions is provided in Table 34.

Table 34. Use of SSW technology and course interest

used SSW Negative or neutral stance Positive stance Total

%(n) %(n) %(n)

No 55(11) 45(9) 100(20)

Yes 27(15) 73(40) 100(55)

Total 35(26) 65(49) 100(75)


Research question 6
Is there a relationship between students’ views (RQ 2) regarding SSW use and academic

learning outcomes as measured by information literacy test and survey questionnaire (RQ

4 and 5).

Correlations of pre-existing attitudes and post- ILT score

Students’ perceptions were recorded in four dimensions contrasting the personal and

institutional spheres of using SSW for learning or recreational use. This is illustrated in Table

35. Each of these dimensions was measured individually for the four SSW types used in the

study, for a total of sixteen measurements.

Table 35. The dimensions of students’ views of SSW for learning

1) personal tool suitable to support learning 2) acceptance for institutional use to support


3) primarily personal, recreational use 4) reject the institutional use

I performed bivariate correlation tests on students’ perceptions of social software and

final ILT scores. No significant correlations were found. The same battery of tests was

performed on various subsets of the data:

1. By separating the cases between users and non-users of SSW

2. Only treatment section students (grouped by users and non-users of SSW


3. Only control section students (grouped by user and non-users of SSW)

4. Essentially the bivariate correlation tests suggested that there were no correlations

between students pre-existing attitudes and the final ILT results. 32

This is was consistent with another set of tests I performed. One-way ANOVA

confirmed that there were no differences between students’ attitudes and ILT scores, when this

latter were banded by proficiency level. Interestingly, and unexpectedly, some metrics showed

that the positive predisposition toward learning were higher for the lower performing groups

(and conversely by some metrics the negative opinion of SSW’s learning suitability did not

prevent students achieving higher performance). However, these differences were not

statistically significant. The corresponding data table is in Appendix D, Table 40.

These findings were repeated when I segmented the data, grouped by users and non-users

of SSW technology.

In conclusion, although there were differences between SSW users and non-users in their

final ILT scores, these could hardly be attributed to their predisposition for using SSW in the

academic settings or for academic tasks.

Pre-existing attitudes and students’ perceptions of learning.

Out of the total 48 correlation test only two showed statistically significant correlation. Among students who did
not use SSW during the study, the perception of wikis as a recreational tool (Pearson R=.487) and among treatment
group SSW users, the perception of blogs as a suitable tool in university classes (Pearson’s R=-.561), were
correlated with the final ILT score.

Bivariate correlations of students’ pre-existing attitudes toward SSW with respect to

suitability in the academic environment and students’ eventual perceptions of learning at the end

of the study period revealed some interesting patterns. Table 36, Table 37, Table 38, and Table

39 summarize the results and highlight the significant correlations.

The first observation is that for the group of students who opted not to use SSW in the

study period (Table 36 and Table 38), there were very few significant correlations. This paints a

picture of consistency: since these students did not use SSW, their opinion about SSW would not
be a meaningful factor influencing their perception/assessment of learning anyway. The fact

that there were no correlations in this group, while several correlations existed amongst the

SWW user group, seems to support this thesis.

The second observation is that most of the correlations fell within the dimensions where

academic roles for SSW are viewed favourably (Table 37). Students who viewed their learning

in the course positively also tended to have a pre-existing favourable view of the suitability of

SSW for learning.

The third observation is that Facebook is generally the SSW type which shows no

significant correlation with perceptions of students’ learning. While attitudes regarding Facebook

Of the two significant correlations found here one was negative: those who tended to view SNT as a primarily
recreational tool viewed their learning unfavourably, in terms of students’ confidence in future preparedness. The
view of SBT as a primarily recreational tool correlated with the favourable view of the collaborative aspect of

have been generally strongly skewed 34, the correlation methodology using Spearman’s rho tends

to be reliable regardless of the distribution of variables.

The correlations that are statistically significant are also relatively moderate (ranging

from .274 to .592, but most frequently in the 0.3 range)

This was discussed earlier (see details in Table 10),

Table 36. Correlations of learning perceptions and pre-existing favourable view of SSW for

learning – non-SSW users

Perceptions of Pre-existing learning attitudes about SSW


suitable as personal learning tool suitable in university classes

B1 W2 F3 D4 B1 W2 F3 D4

The use of Correlation 0.072 0.342 -0.249 0.059 0.205 0.227 -0.383 0.222
technology made Coefficient
the course more
interesting Sig. (2- 0.77 0.14 0.304 0.856 0.414 0.349 0.106 0.425

n 19 20 19 12 18 19 19 15

Collaboration Correlation 0.034 0.233 -0.149 0.065 0.046 0.141 -0.123 0.19
with others Coefficient
furthered my
understanding Sig. (2- 0.89 0.322 0.542 0.841 0.856 0.564 0.615 0.498
of the topics in tailed)
this course
n 19 20 19 12 18 19 19 15

Understanding of Correlation -0.074 0.216 -0.266 0.038 -0.075 0.021 -0.145 0.24
topics increased Coefficient

Sig. (2- 0.75 0.335 0.243 0.898 0.755 0.93 0.531 0.353

n 21 22 21 14 20 21 21 17

Feels better Correlation -0.311 -0.073 -0.333 0.101 -0.399 -0.211 -0.36 0.2
prepared for Coefficient
future classes
Sig. (2- 0.195 0.761 0.163 0.743 0.101 0.386 0.13 0.458

n 19 20 19 13 18 19 19 16

1. Blogs
3.Facebook or other social networking tool
4. Delicious or other bookmarking/tagging tool

Table 37. Correlations of learning perceptions and pre-existing favourable view of SSW for

learning – SSW users

Perceptions of Pre-existing learning attitudes about SSW


suitable as personal learning tool suitable in university classes

B1 W2 F3 D4 B1 W2 F3 D4

The use of Correlation 0.385** 0.352** 0.234 0.281 0.271* 0.363** 0.255 0.347*
technology made Coefficient
the course more
interesting Sig. (2- 0.004 0.009 0.089 0.083 0.045 0.007 0.063 0.03

n 53 54 54 39 55 54 54 39

Collaboration Correlation 0.239 0.175 0.125 0.332* 0.229 0.19 -0.077 0.132
with others Coefficient
furthered my
understanding of Sig. (2- 0.084 0.204 0.367 0.039 0.093 0.169 0.581 0.423
the topics in this tailed)
n 53 54 54 39 55 54 54 39

Understanding of Correlation 0.258 0.274* 0.255 0.172 0.279* 0.186 0.233 0.209
topics increased Coefficient

Sig. (2- 0.062 0.045 0.063 0.295 0.039 0.178 0.09 0.201

n 53 54 54 39 55 54 54 39

Feels better Correlation 0.258 0.327* 0.15 0.209 0.258 0.318* 0.102 0.391*
prepared for Coefficient
future classes
Sig. (2- 0.062 0.016 0.277 0.207 0.057 0.019 0.465 0.015

n 53 54 54 38 55 54 54 38

1. Blogs
3.Facebook or other social networking tool
4. Delicious or other bookmarking/tagging tool
**. Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
*. Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).

Table 38. Correlations of learning perceptions and pre-existing unfavourable view of SSW

for learning – non-SSW users

Perceptions of Pre-existing learning attitudes about SSW


Primarily for fun Not suitable in university classes

B1 W2 F3 D4 B1 W2 F3 D4

The use of Correlation 0.21 0.124 0.183 0.244 0.069 0.036 0.27 -0.029
technology made Coefficient
the course more
interesting Sig. (2- 0.389 0.614 0.439 0.38 0.771 0.879 0.249 0.918

n 19 19 20 15 20 20 20 15

Collaboration Correlation 0.14 0.2 0.079 0.592* 0.219 0.211 0.392 0.35
with others Coefficient
furthered my
understanding Sig. (2- 0.567 0.412 0.739 0.02 0.353 0.371 0.087 0.201
of the topics in tailed)
this course
n 19 19 20 15 20 20 20 15

Understanding of Correlation 0.015 -0.103 -0.351 -0.162 -0.146 -0.175 -0.079 -0.052
topics increased Coefficient

Sig. (2- 0.95 0.656 0.109 0.534 0.516 0.437 0.726 0.844

n 21 21 22 17 22 22 22 17

Feels better Correlation 0.156 -0.013 -0.528* -0.155 0.013 -0.133 -0.117 0.124
prepared for Coefficient
future classes
Sig. (2- 0.524 0.956 0.017 0.581 0.957 0.576 0.624 0.648

n 19 19 20 15 20 20 20 16

1. Blogs
3.Facebook or other social networking tool
4. Delicious or other bookmarking/tagging tool
*. Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).

Table 39. Correlations of learning perceptions and pre-existing unfavourable view of SSW

for learning – SSW users

Perceptions of Pre-existing learning attitudes about SSW


Primarily for fun Not suitable in university classes

B1 W2 F3 D4 B1 W2 F3 D4

The use of Correlation 0.101 0.011 -0.11 0.263 0.1 -0.266 -0.189 -0.113
technology made Coefficient
the course more
interesting Sig. (2- 0.467 0.939 0.43 0.11 0.48 0.057 0.18 0.498

n 54 54 54 38 52 52 52 38

Collaboration Correlation 0.169 -0.074 0.014 0.213 0.058 -0.356** 0.009 -0.203
with others Coefficient
furthered my
understanding Sig. (2- 0.222 0.596 0.918 0.193 0.684 0.01 0.948 0.215
of the topics in tailed)
this course
n 54 54 54 39 52 51 52 39

Understanding of Correlation 0.068 0.001 -0.125 0.039 -0.141 -0.132 -0.236 -0.122
topics increased Coefficient

Sig. (2- 0.624 0.997 0.369 0.818 0.317 0.35 0.092 0.464

n 54 54 54 38 52 52 52 38

Feels better Correlation -0.011 -0.083 -0.051 0.118 -0.056 -0.238 -0.042 -0.187
prepared for Coefficient
future classes
Sig. (2- 0.936 0.546 0.714 0.474 0.691 0.089 0.768 0.254

n 54 55 54 39 53 52 52 39

1. Blogs
3.Facebook or other social networking tool
4. Delicious or other bookmarking/tagging tool
**. Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).

In summary, amongst SSW users, positive pre-existing attitudes toward the utility of

SSW to support learning were associated with a favourable view of their learning (post-test).

This correlation was largely absent in the non-SSW user group 35. The correlations however do

not necessarily indicate causality.

Arguably the SSW attitudes are not relevant when compared with learning outcomes, since this group of students
did not use SSW.

Chapter five – Discussion

Summary of findings.
RQ1. What is the nature and extent of SSW use among participating

1. Among the study participants students report a moderate amount of SSW use, with the

exception of social networking technologies, whose adoption is nearly ubiquitous

2. The dominant use of SSW falls outside of the academic sphere, although there is

moderate amount of academic use reported

3. Students view their SSW skills as moderate except social networking technologies which

were reported as high

The first finding is consistent with the results reported in large scale surveys, such as the

series of Pew Internet Studies and the ECAR survey of undergraduate students (in particular, the

2008 version of this latter offers a very similar picture). This is also consistent with other

smaller scale studies (Kennedy et al., 2007; Margaryan, Nicol, Littlejohn, & Trinder, 2008) .

This finding is important because it tempers the concerns of those in academia who fear that the

Net Generation students’ perceived demands for ITC in their lives, i.e., “always on”, “always

connected”, “plugged in”, and to “create” and “share” content (Educating the Net Generation),

require radically changing the institutional environment in order to mimic and support this

supposed modus operandi. Even if there is some observable increase in these trends, students’

use of technologies is widely diffused and extends beyond just one class of “social”

technologies. Of the SSW technologies, only one, social networking seemed to fulfill the

promise of reaching near ubiquity in students’ lives. Engagement with other, formerly hyped

technologies such as blogging might have reached a plateau on a relatively modest level. This

study cannot offer an analysis for reasons of the divergence. This would be an important area of

further study.

As it will be discussed in detail in the next section, compared with the other SSW

technologies used in this study, students have very different attitudes about social networking.

Specifically they tend to view it belonging within their private domain more than any other SSW.

These hardening of attitudes toward being more open to other types of activities (like formal

learning) could be symptomatic of the success of the pervasive reach of these social networking

technologies in the private domain.

It is unclear why social networking has such a distinct place in students’ lives, compared with

other types of SSW. It could be that for the Net Generation, the recreational aspects of

socializing afforded by these technologies are more appealing activities than ones that demand,

or have connotations of more “serious work” and “effort” (Woodall, 2004) – such as content

creation in blog and wiki environments. Maybe it is that Net Geners – Prensky (2001b)

highlights that they are visual learners – have less affinity with the text centric nature of these

latter technologies. Maybe it is that social networking technologies centred on the person, the

individual scale up better in a network environment than the content based ones like blogs, wikis,

or even social bookmarking. The latter, even if linked, require a conscientious effort to continue

to add value to the system. As well, wikis, blogs, and social bookmarking sites are a step

removed from the immediacy of social networking technologies.


These are just some of the hypotheses that are should be tested in future research. The results

would have many implications for the educational environment, ranging from the role of rich

media in teaching and learning to the role of content knowledge. For institutions of higher

learning that subscribe to the notion that ubiquitous technology on campus is a necessary

ingredient for achieving success in the teaching and learning mandate, the main point to consider

from these results is that students are still not the main drivers of technology usage. Maybe they

welcome the technologies more than previous generations, maybe they are more comfortable or

skilled with them than previous generations, but the technology use in the formal educational

environment still seems to be dictated by the traditional issues of efficiencies, access, and

control. This appears to somewhat weaken the purely technology based instructional paradigm

with its uncompromising attitude.

The low to moderate academic use of SSW for formal or informal learning 36 among the

participants before the study is also generally consistent with the previously published literature

(Salaway et al., 2007; Salaway et al., 2008; Trinder et al., 2008). The study results did not show

any increase in the trends, relative to earlier studies, for using these tools to support students’

learning. This should certainly temper the concerns that SSW represents a major technological

disruption for higher education, at least in the realm of instructional technology. The

“disruptive” characteristics of these technologies, such as low costs, ease of use, and that they

cater to a market of newly emerging needs hitherto undefined, have not translated to increased

frequency or pervasive usage patterns. Neither do major SSW technologies, such as blogs, wikis,

The study did not differentiate between these

and social bookmarking tools appear to be “owned” by the Net Generation, to the extent implied

by the students’ self-perception of skills with these technologies.

This in itself does not mean that institutions can or should dismiss the potential of social

software for facilitating teaching and learning, knowledge management, as well as open and

borderless learning in higher education. The important distinction is that there appears to be no

single driver for effecting such changes: to date, neither the Net Generation students’ approach to

SSW, nor the technologies themselves have shown characteristics which, put together, would

reach a critical mass to effect a paradigm change in the use of instructional technology.

However, institutions can also be drivers, and should consider doing so when the particular

learning environment, or institutional mandate, warrant more open approaches. Nevertheless,

these should be carefully investigated and evaluated.

RQ2. What are the participating students’ perceptions and attitudes about
using SSW for learning?

1. Among Net Generation students, the degree of positive attitudes toward using SSW to

support learning corresponds to the extent they are already using these technologies. As

discussed under RQ1, this can be characterized as low to moderate.

2. Specifically, if a student used a particular type of SSW in the past, its potential for

supporting learning (either formal or informal) is consistently recognized by students.

3. A greater proportion of students, however, view SSW as a set of primarily personal,

consumer tools rather than learning tools.


These findings parallel the diffusion of innovation model described in the latest of the ECAR

surveys on students’ use of technologies (Salaway et al., 2008). Although SWW was not

discussed separately in the ECAR survey, the model as a whole can be generalized to this

emerging segment of ICT. According to this, about 10% of students consider themselves
innovators (first to try new technologies) and another 25% are early adopters (p.54).

In this thesis research, the patterns emerging from the data suggest that there is strong

likelihood that attitudes toward adopting SSW for learning could be influenced by students’ pre-

existing experience with, and own independent assessment of these tools, in the broad context of

learning. These patterns were not identified previously and therefore the researcher did not

formulate any hypotheses to investigate any aspect of them, but it could be important for future

research. For example, institutionally sanctioned and mediated implementation of SSW

technologies in a formal education environment could act as positive reinforcement for the

acceptance of these tools in future use.

While the thesis research did not specifically investigate this aspect, there is some indication

in the data that students’ experiences with SSW within formal instructional environments act as a

positive reinforcement. For example, at the conclusion of the study, members of the treatment

group exhibited a clear pattern of higher interest in using SSW in future classes, although the

differences were not statistically significant.

The patterns in the adoption also closely track students’ reported skills using IT across the technology spectrum.

The second clear pattern was the close match of past use (previous to the study) of a specific

SSW tool and the acceptance of the very same technology for learning. While this logic seems

trivial, the analysis of the data also showed that the majority of students, including even avid

users of the technologies, often fail to recognize the potential of these technologies for

supporting their learning, or they resist to the idea of using them in the learning domain.

This is corroborated in the literature. Even those scholars who strongly believe that SSW

should have a greater role in higher education have some concerns about whether the way Net

Generation students currently use SSW can be reconciled with proposed models of use in the

instructional environment. For example Anderson (2007) hypothesizes that “entrenched” peer

communities within social networks will challenge established hierarchies within academia. This

seems to be supported by the data in the ECAR survey (Salaway et al., 2008 p. 28), which

showed that only a small number of students communicated with instructors via social

networking, contrasted with much higher peer-to peer usage. The “friending” process -a term

used by Ellison (2008), at the core of social networking tools for example can make both

students and teachers uncomfortable, since they appear to break down some of the institutional

hierarchies. There have also been a number of examples 38 where the peer to peer context of these

social networks was seized by the “official establishment” and used for disciplinary action or

other type of censure. These can certainly cause some hardening of attitudes by the “grassroots”

users of technology, the Net Gen students, who view social networking tools as their own.

These range from an Australian court decision (Australian court approves Facebook for serving lien notice.), to
community organizations policing behaviours of their member. Perhaps the most relevant example in the context of
this dissertation is the one at Ryerson University where content posted on Facebook prompted the university to
launch an academic misconduct investigation (Brown, 2008b)

Social Networking tools are the most frequently cited examples of this conflict between the

personal/private use of SSW technologies and the officially sanctioned one. However, other

types of social tools tend to converge on the same end of the spectrum of the technology

ownership domain. Regardless of whether these technologies can be defined as fully owned by

students, as Dalsgaard (2006) tends to see it, or ones where this ownership is dynamic and

negotiated between individuals and institutions (Dron, 2006b), the prevailing view today

(supported by the data in the thesis research) squarely puts the locus of use on the private sphere.

Consequently, if institutions aim to increase the role of SSW in the instructional environment

over time, introducing them carefully, and ensuring that students have positive experiences with

them, could be an effective strategy to effect positive students’ attitudes, which could be

leveraged further. Measuring the degree and influence of positive experiences in detail could be

an interesting aspect of a future study.

RQ3. To what extent do these students utilize SSW for academic tasks in
the context of learning information literacy?

1. When students encounter SSW in an instructional environment, to some degree they tend

to adopt these technologies for academic tasks

2. The rate of adoption is not high in the absence of mandating and/or measuring use

3. When students use SSW for academic purposes they tend to use it in the narrow

academic context and not beyond (no ‘network effects’)

4. Familiarity and skills with technology (including SSW, and particularly social

networking tools) seem to play a major role in the extent to which students adopt it for

academic tasks

There was only a limited amount of direct institutional control available to force students in

the treatment group to use SSW. The methodology eschewed conventional techniques such as

awarding credits, or tying grades closely to the use of these tools. At the same time techniques to

ensure student motivation included more vaguely defined but equally compelling methods such

as constructing the course narrative in the SSW framework to encourage the use of these tools.

As well, such extrinsic rewards as the final course grades implied that students needed to align

their learning with the instructional structure. This design allowed for testing the notion that

learning is best understood as a self-governed and autonomous activity (Dalsgaard, 2006) and

SSW inherently supports this process. To the extent this was true, SSW use would have been

detected amongst the control group participants. This indeed proved to be the case.

The results are in line with the data reported by Trinder et al. (2008). That study reported

students’ willingness (cited at 45%) to consider SSW for “formal learning”. While the results of

the two studies are similar, the methodologies differed: Trinder et al. (2008) obtained data from

interviews with participants; this dissertation measured students’ willingness as evidenced in

their actions during the course of the study.

Looking at the data, what immediately stands out was the relatively lower overall SSW

adoption rate in the treatment group, compared with the control group. When looking at the

course-and task-specific aspects of the SSW however, the adoption rates were equally low in

both groups. There were both direct and indirect indicators built into the research design to

explain any variability of this aspect. Direct indicators were the variables pertaining to specific

barriers to the use of SSW. The indirect indicators were the factors indicating the in-depth use

(or lack thereof) of the distinguishing features of these tools.


Both types of indicators suggest a certain lack of understanding by the students of the

roles and potential of SSW in the learning ecology. Even when engaged with these tools in the

learning environment, the grasp of the capabilities in the technology seemed relatively


This observation is corroborated by both Siemens (2007) and Trinder et al. (2008), based

on both anecdotal practitioner observations, and qualitative research respectively. One specific

example cited by Trinder et al. indicated that students may not fully understand the capabilities

of “e-tools” such as the collaborative capabilities of wikis.

Finally, the dissertation research provides some evidence that the above dynamic works

in the opposite direction also. Thus, if students have a deeper understanding of SSW and the use

of technologies, this will lead to a greater degree of engagement in the academic context. This is

illustrated with the use of social networking technologies (Facebook). Although the examination

of pre-existing attitudes suggested the greatest resistance to use this particular SSW tool for

learning, it ended up being the most pervasive in the course. The fact that students have a deeper

understanding of the capabilities of these tools and comfort with this technology is a likely

explanation, although this needs further testing in future research.

The learning management system experience:

5. When the same basic functionalities exist in both types of technologies, students prefer to

use LMS over SSW, if the mandate of the LMS is more overarching

Students in both groups appeared to have valued the learning management system more than

SSW in many dimensions in the study. The LMS was used more frequently and widely, and

students rated it higher than any other technology used during the course.

The literature on social software offers some possible explanations as to why this might have

happened. Lohnes and Kinzer (2007) for instance highlight the Net Generation’s respect for

authority (the teacher in the academic environment) and their reliance on barrier free access to

this authority. Technology, generally speaking, can act as a barrier, as it takes away from the

immediacy of face-to-face communication. However, the degree of difference between

technologies in this regard can be meaningful: students are likely to associate the hierarchically

oriented LMS more with the teacher-authority than the nebulous, self-governing tools such as

SSW. Consequently the injection of the latter into the learning environment could act as a greater

barrier to access to teachers. It is unclear whether the study participants could be broadly

classified as respecting authority under the Net Gen theory (Howe & Strauss, 2000; Howe &

Strauss, 2003) or that they were more likely at a personal developmental stage where the teacher-

authority plays an important role in their approaches to learning. This latter would be closest to

the “basic duality” stage in Perry’s cognitive development theory (Evans, Forney, & Guido-

DiBrito, 1998). In this stage students tend to defer to the teacher as the “knower” of knowledge,

and they are less likely to question the absoluteness of truths. This is the first stage in Perry’s

model, and considering the low average age (19 years) of participants, they could be in this early

stage of intellectual development. A learning technology that focuses on the “management”

aspect of learning such as the LMS (Dalsgaard, 2006), would be more fitting for this

developmental stage than ones that are unstructured, and based on self-organization for the

discovery of “truths”.

Regardless of whether we accept the Net Gen theory or Perry’s model, in the context of

this study, the overwhelming preference for the LMS indicates that students indeed needed to see

the control of learning technology handed to the teacher. This is contrary to Dron (2006a; 2006b;

2007) who sees the control of learning a much more nuanced and dynamic process. The

experience of this study was markedly different. In future studies, it would be important to

isolate the factors (possibly maturity, learning styles, etc.,) which could influence the dynamics

of control in a technology enhanced learning environment. If we knew more about these factors,

the appropriate technologies could be tailored to these student characteristics, and/or deployed

more selectively.

There are additional, developmental factors less general in nature, which could influence

students’ preferences for specific technologies for learning. A study by Lowerison & Schmid

(2007) for example suggests that students seem to benefit from “nonlinear” SSW technologies if

they have domain knowledge and or if they have higher level of familiarity with the

technologies. Those who do not have these skills, prefer more linear technologies “like LMS” 39.

This is something of a Catch-22: if those who already have greater domain knowledge, or higher

The limited data collected in the thesis study does not support the argument put forward by Lowerison and
Schmid. Using Pre-test ILT scores as indicator of domain knowledge (cut off point @ 64 percent – the average)
there were no differences in the rating of LMS, measured either by perception of it in the current course
environment or interest in future use. Similarly inconclusive were other grouping methods: self rated skills on the
four SSW technologies, using the cut-off point of 4 (rating scale of 5)

technology skills benefit more from the use of these technologies in the institutional learning

environment, increased reliance on SSW may adversely affect those students who have lesser

skills. Extending the logic of this theory, this latter group could benefit from it, if they reached a

threshold – but designing instructional strategies to reach this threshold would require a careful


6. Intrinsic factors such as students’ motivation to learn and /or to achieve on tests seem to

play a role in SSW adoption, even if SSW is not explicitly offered in the instructional


7. Conversely, some students may have felt that prescribed the self-directed activities

(reviewing the material and collaborating on the questions) did not help them to prepare

for the final test

8. The main barriers to adopting SSW in the study context were the lack of clear

mandate/enforcement, and the negative perception of these tools. Skills (lack of) while

seeming to figure positively in the adoption of SSW, were not among the main barriers.

Only a small proportion of the study population (22 students), indicated outright that they did

not use SSW during the study. These students saw few real barriers to using SSW. Clearly one

of the major issues was that these tools were not marketed properly to the students in the

treatment group. A small percentage of students were also simply not engaged with or inclined to

use these emerging technologies. This is representative as far as it is reported by other studies.

For example the ECAR survey (Salaway et al., 2008p. 96) cites “just not interested” as one of the

top 3 most typical comments on reasons for not getting involved with these technologies.

Interestingly however, students seemed confident in their technical abilities or at least were

reluctant to admit the opposite. Lack of skills or perception of these did not act as a deterrent.

This means that better marketing and better instructional design of these tools, could translate to

greater adoption of these technologies.

Beyond the direct measures employed by the questionnaire to determine the reasons for not

using SSW question, the data contained indicators which suggested that the SSW tools were not

always used extensively (if at all) for academic tasks. A future study would be needed to

untangle the extent of these, and the factors behind them.

RQ4. How does the use of SSW impact these students’ scores on the
information literacy test?

1. No difference was found between the treatment and the control group in either the pre-test

information literacy (ILT) scores or the post-test ILT scores. The different instructional

treatment in the two groups did not result in different academic performance as measured by

the ILT scores.

2. Instruction itself and/or students’ self-study played a positive role in academic achievement

as evidenced in the differences between pre and post-ILT scores

3. While it could not be demonstrated that the differences in instructional treatment played a

role in achievement, SSW use itself was positively correlated with it, as per below

a. regardless of instructional treatment, students who used SSW performed better on the

post ILT than non-user counterparts

b. there was no difference in post-ILT scores when the SSW users of the control and

treatment group were compared


4. Skills with SSW, student engagement, maturity, and academic outperformance appear to be


Conclusions drawn from the experimental model

The overall conclusion is that SSW as a disruptive technology in the academic context is

negligible but its value as a niche tool for social engagement has been proven. The study could

not demonstrate differences in learning outcomes (as measured in test scores) between the group

of students subjected to institutionally sanctioned, instructional SSW strategies and the control

group. The experimental model, however, was loosely structured and a pattern of SSW use

emerged which was associated with higher test scores. From the study design, we can only say

that the different instructional technologies as implemented in the specific course context did not

make a difference in ILT score outcomes. This “black box” method of using disruptive

technology yields two somewhat contradictory types of conclusions. The first one is that simply

injecting supposedly popular technologies in the formal learning environment does not

automatically guarantee a return in either uptake in use, or in efficient use of these technologies

− in the absence of additional strategies such as tighter integration of these tools with the

pedagogical framework and the instructional model. The second conclusion is that emerging

SSW technologies nevertheless represent an important undercurrent in higher education, with

pedagogical value and utility. “Stepping out of the way” (Leslie & Landon 2008) and letting

students independently employ these technologies could still yield learning benefits.

Secondary findings

This second consequence is, however, much weaker. What we can draw from the results

of this study is that SSW use and academic achievement is associated, but that there are a host of

other factors which can play important roles, and causality could not be determined from the data

collected. Clearly, the inter-relation of these factors with social software use and academic

achievement is complex. I discuss these below.

Factor 1. Engagement

The study highlighted the prominence of factors that have been traditionally proven to be

associated with academic achievement, such as engagement factors, particularly “time on task”

(Astin, 1999). It is unclear, however, whether SSW use spurred students to devote more energy

to academic tasks, or whether highly engaged students were likely more willing to employ SSW

in their learning toolset. Other significant factors emerged in this study that fit with the

involvement theory also. According to Astin, time on task is a key determinant of a range of

cognitive development outcomes (ibid. p. 566). Insofar as maturity/students’ age is indicative of

the degree of their cognitive development, the study highlighted the positive correlation of these

factors with SSW use.

There was one aspect of social software use however that contradicted an element of

Austin’s involvement theory, which holds that academic involvement is inversely related to

social engagement with the students’ peers. This is clearly not the case with social software, and

particularly social networking, which are foremost about peer engagement. This could merely be

a gap in Astin’s theory: when it was first developed, ITC use was marginal, at least for social

purposes. It is difficult to speculate why these dynamics of academic and social involvement

would be different in a “virtual” environment. It may be that in the virtual environment it is


easier to reconcile these two types of activities. Since in this context both types of activities use

Internet based technologies, it would be easy for multi-tasking Net Generation students (a

supposedly generational trait) to switch back and forth between these two domains. It may be

also possible that the Net Generation is more “social” than the students were when the

involvement theory was developed. Certainly there are a number of authors (Oblinger, 2005a;

Woodall, 2004) who claim this “social aspect” as a generational trait. It may be that social

involvement on a virtual level is not the same as in the “real world” environment. Nevertheless,

since the value of collaboration, peer learning, is well recognized in higher education, social

software could be a game changer because it does not seem to detract from academic efforts,

while at the same time it augments peer collaboration. While anecdotally, generally the opposite

view is held, that is that SSW is more of a distraction in the academic environment (Brown,

2008a; Grabmeier, 2009), this finding in the study refutes those concerns.

Factor 2 Gender

Gender differences in the use of emerging technologies amongst the Net Generation have

been observed in previous studies (Lenhart et al., 2007). The mandate of the dissertation research

did not include detailed study of these differences. Generally there was no statistically significant

difference between the two genders in the overall use of SSW during the study phases, although

a greater proportion of males than females were engaged. However, there was an indication in

the data that male students seemed to benefit more from using SSW technologies as evident in

their test scores. This was not the case with females. One possible explanation is that females in

this study could have utilized additional and/or different strategies from those afforded by SSW,

for example when collaborating with peers (e.g. more face to face contact). This is an area that

would need further study. Also, because of the very small sample in the study, this would need to

be verified by using larger more representative sample.

The performance gap between female and male users of SSW grew at the end of the

study, suggesting that females generally would benefit less from using SSW than males,

although this difference was not statistically significant. There was no previous indication in

studies that SSW could prejudice gender academic achievement. This should be studied further.

Possible factors influencing this are the particular learning environment and choice of SSW

tools, and the overall level of technology use.

Gender differences in previous studies (Lenhart et al., 2007; Salaway et al., 2008)

highlighted aspects of technology that were not present in the current study. For example, males

are a more dominant demographic group in video creation and online gaming. They also seem to

be “early adopters” of emerging technologies to a larger extent than females (Salaway et al.,

2008). This latter aspect appears consistent with this study, insofar as the use of SSW indicated.

Overall, females performed lower in the ILT at the end of the study (while pre-test scores

were equivalent).

Factor 3. Age

The ECAR series of studies indicates that there is a variance in students’ age and their

relationship with technology, specifically that the younger students preferred less technology in

courses - although this seems to have leveled off for the last installment of this longitudinal

study (Salaway et al., 2008). The same survey suggests that other differences also exist: for

example, a higher rate of use and intensity with social networking software amongst the

youngest (18-19 years) age group (ibid. p.4 and 115)

In higher education, there is also an observable correlation between higher class standing and

increased level of information literacy skills. This was confirmed by Project SAILS, an

information literacy assessment tool used in eighty three North American universities (Kent State

University, 2008a; Kent State University, 2008b).

The findings in the thesis research suggest that age (and perhaps more likely, class standing)

could play a role both in students’ involvement with SSW tools and information literacy skills

attainment. The nearly one year difference in students’ ages observed between the non-users and

users of SSW could be important, since higher year university students might have a distinct

advantage over first year students in terms of information literacy skills and computing skills,

since these students would have been exposed to tasks involving research, writing papers, in

previous university classes.

The analysis of the data suggests a pre-existing gap in the information literacy skills between

students just entering university and those with potentially more university experience. This gap

stayed about the same overall, but widened slightly in the treatment group. Neither the

instructional treatment differences nor social software use itself had a leveling effect to close this

gap. In fact, in some cases the opposite seems true: younger students may have struggled more

with the demands of the learning environment in the treatment group. Due to the limitations of

the small sample size it is hard to discern any patterns that would explain this variance. It would

need to be subject of future research.


Unfortunately the research design did not include a reliable instrument to determine class

standing, and only age could be used as a proxy. Age variance between students who used SSW

during the course and those who did not was a statistically significant demographic factor in ILT

performance. However, age in itself does not offer much insight into how or if it may have

played a role in students’ adopting (or not) SSW for learning in the study context.

Factor 4: Skills with technology

The role of skills with technology was explored to test the notion that higher level of

skills with SSW would explain higher level of use. While this is a fairly trivial proposition, it

was important to investigate it in the study context. The literature suggests that one of the main

potentials of SSW technologies is that it enhances students’ digital literacy skills (Salaway et al.,

2008). Consequently, if higher SSW skills can be observed within one group, then it is

reasonable to expect that these students have higher digital literacy skill, and would be likely at

an advantage in performing on the ILT test as well, since general computer and digital literacy is

assumed to be correlated with information literacy.

The data revealed that indeed higher skill levels with SSW (specifically skills with Social

Networking technologies) are a reasonable indicator of future use (adoption) in the academic

environment. However, the analysis of the data also revealed that these skills in fact would be

very poor predictors of academic performance as it relates to information literacy attainment.

This could be explained by the following.

1. The use of self reported skills is not reliable to measure actual skills. Salaway (2008 p.49)

for example states that self assessment is not a good proxy for actual skills (for example

males tend to overrate their skills). Nevertheless, this is a frequently used assessment

method, as there are no reliable methods to measure specific computer skills, particularly

in the ever changing sphere of Social Software.

2. Computer literacy, while a necessary ingredient for student success in the increasingly

digital world, does not substitute for the cognitive and moral/ethical developmental

processes needed for achieving information literacy.

Finally, this dissertation research only focused on basic, self-reported SSW technology

skills as a proxy indicator for students’ future academic success. Net Generation students’

self-confidence measures should be treated with some caution. For example, several studies

point out that students tend to have an overly inflated view of their own information literacy

skills (Gunter, 2007; Maughan, 2001; Nicholas et al., 2007). Moreover, this miscalibration

has a stronger effect on less proficient students, who are then less likely to recognize the

benefits of library instruction (Gross & Latham, 2007).

RQ5. How do the perceptions of the students who used SSW compare with
those students who did not use SSW?

• No difference was found between perceptions of learning between SSW users and non-

users, although SSW users appeared to be more satisfied with the level of technology

used in the course.

This research question was proposed for the study to gain insights on academic outcomes

from a different angle than the one used in research question 4 (i.e. strictly scores-based test

approach). Students’ perceptions of aspects of their learning such as collaborative learning, the

role of technologies, their overall assessment of learning, and confidence in their abilities to

apply what they learned in the future – would be all useful indicators of these outcomes.

Methodologically, using self-reports as an assessment tool to determine educational quality is

valid and complements strictly assessment based tests (Kuh, 2003 p. 3)

The data did not demonstrate meaningful differences between SSW users and non-users,

except in one dimension, satisfaction with the level of technology used during the course.

However, out of the four dimensions examined, this is probably the weakest indicator of quality.

It may simply mean that SSW users were already committed to higher levels of technology use

and they were satisfied that this condition was met during the course.

This indicates a certain polarity within the student population and presents a dilemma for

institutions of higher learning. Students highly engaged with digital technologies (such as SSW)

appear to demand and/or are receptive to a high level of technology use in courses, while less

engaged students are less interested in ICT use in the classroom. In such environments,

institutions, particularly the technology oriented ones, cannot eschew using high level of ICT in

teaching and learning. However user demographics would need to be considered, and less

engaged students need to be supported with the particular technologies that are deployed. When

these include emerging new technologies such as SSW, additional factors should be taken into

consideration, such as marketing of these technologies.

RQ6. Is there a relationship between the students’ perceptions and

attitudes (RQ 2) toward SSW and academic learning outcomes − as
measured by the information literacy test, and survey questionnaire (RQ 4
and 5)?

• there appeared to be no meaningful correlations between pre-existing SSW attitudes

(academic aspects) and ILT scores

• amongst SSW users, positive pre-existing attitudes toward the utility of SSW to support

learning correlated with these students’ favourable views of their learning (post-test)

The purpose of this RQ was to investigate whether students’ biases regarding their view of

SSW influenced learning outcomes (measured both quantitatively by the ILT, and using

students’ perceptions as an indicator). The analysis of the data showed that this was not the case

with respect to the final information literacy scores. It seems that the students’ performance on

the test was not related to pre-existing attitudes towards Social Software. As discussed earlier,

the differences were attributed to a host of other factors.

On the other hand, these attitudes were correlated with the students’ view of their learning.

Specifically, students who were generally accepting of the notion that SSW is suitable to fit

academic roles either informally or formally, had a correspondingly positive view of their

learning, measured by such indicators as collaborative learning, the role of technologies,

students’ overall assessment of learning, and confidence in their future abilities. These

correlations existed largely only among students who actually used SSW during the study.

Logically, this makes sense since the non-SSW users’ views about SSW would not be as

relevant. 40

Incidentally, the data also showed that largely there were no differences between the two groups regarding the
SSW learning attitudes themselves.

What this means for higher education is that assigning formal roles to SSW in the academic

context could have wider ranging implications. Ideally, the goal should be to create a learning

environment where the students’ view of technologies is (or changes to) a positive one, which

can reinforce other learning outcomes. This theory needs to be tested in future research. This

study did not measure any change in SSW attitudes post-test. Without this, it is difficult to

determine causality between these factors, even though the attitudes that were measured reflect

an earlier state.

Caveats and limitations

The goal of the research model was to examine whether social software can be harnessed

to improve the students’ learning experience.

The following logic was used, derived from the literature:

1. The Net Gen demands and uses more technology (see 2)

2. SSW offers support for modern pedagogy: it conforms to a number of learning theories,

as well as with general Net Gen characteristics such as “demand for engagement”.

3. SSW as disruptive technology impacts on education technology. The main points of

disruptive nature are: low cost, ease of use, and creating a market for needs previously

unrecognized. Among the examples of these unrecognized needs are: reputation

management, networking and socializing, and rich media. Another set of attributes of

these emerging needs were outlined in the theory of “wikinomics” (Tapscott & Williams,

2006): openness, peering, sharing, and acting globally.


4. Learning happens informally, even within organizations (Leslie and Landon, 2008). This

means a need to shift toward lifelong, borderless education, expanding the traditional

boundaries of the academy.

As an extension of the above logic, the researcher was interested to examine the validity of a

“black box” model – that is to investigate whether the injection these technologies already

popularly used among Net Generation students into the instructional environment results in

different outcomes. Leslie and Landon (2008) made a number of recommendations and

scenarios to underscore the feasibility of this model. The following ones were considered in this


• Educators need to just “step out of the way”, and let SSW do its job

• Educators need to facilitate SSW use in the instructional environment

• Educators need to “convince users”, for example mandate SSW use if students do

not see enough incentive to use the ones offered by the institution (Leslie and

Landon suggests that personal motivation and the students’ sense of ownership of

the technologies is the key to success for the application SSW, and as such a

hands-off approach could be successful.)

The research model needed to fit the somewhat conflicting requirements demanded by

these three recommendations. The last two of these could more easily fit within a prescribed

model, but would ignore the possibility that SSW use for academic purposes also occurs “in the

wild” – a plausible scenario.

A true experimental research model calls for clear delineation of the treatment conditions

so the effects on treatment variables could be compared with the control group (Creswell, 2008).

When the researcher was setting up the research design for the study, initially there were some

concerns about “how much” treatment was going to be “enough”. However, ensuring that the

treatment was effective turned out to be an even greater challenge. So while the first set of

conditions according to Creswell (i.e., that the treatment conditions were entirely different from

those in the control group) were satisfied in the study design, the challenge was in executing the


Ideally, treatment effectiveness could be ensured by one of the following conditions:

• By extensive and pervasive use of the technologies (utilized both during classes,

synchronously, and between/after classes - asynchronously)

• By designing the learning environment so the specific technologies employed in the two

respective models are tightly integrated and fit the learning tasks

• By instituting controls (e.g., assigning grades, or other academic mechanism) which

guaranteed that these tasks would be actually performed

However, the ultimate control over the instructional design did not rest with the researcher.

This will be discussed later. Hence it proved to be difficult to create the above conditions. In the

absence of these, it was hoped that introducing students’ own technologies would hold intrinsic

rewards, and that this was going to be a motivating factor in getting the students to perform these

tasks. Assigning 30% of the course value to the final ILT served as the main extrinsic motivator.

Thus the treatment was less extensive than the researcher initially had hoped, but it

represented a compromise. The factors leading to this compromise are addressed below, under

methodological challenges. Nevertheless, the use of SSW technologies extended beyond simply

delivering course content. This included collaboration and collaborative creation of content,

together with personalization features which helped students to form their own meaning – central

tenets in social constructivist learning theory.

The methodological challenges

1. Student motivation

In prior years, this was a “pass only”, elective course, and students exhibited low levels of

engagement, particularly in the case of the section offered by the library. The librarian-

instructors primarily concentrated on the delivery of content (the teacher centred learning model)

The use of strategies to ensure a high level of ongoing student participation was less in evidence.

There was however one major change: for the year of my study, the chief instructor modified the

requirements and made it a graded course. The expectation was that this would increase student

motivation and self regulation, and that students will employ more strategic approaches to


2. The duration of instruction:

The information literacy instruction classes were allocated one block of time in the course

schedule. This had implications for the research design. There were some concerns that the span

of five classes, over approximately three weeks, was going to be too short to meaningfully

measure any sort of learning outcomes. Because of this concern, and because the technology

tools were able to support asynchronous (i.e. outside of the classroom) learning, the initial plan

was to hold the information literacy instruction at the very beginning of the course and to

administer the final test at the end of the semester. This would have afforded the maximum

amount of formal and informal learning time in the course. Thus the study design included two

phases by adding a self study period (phase two) to the formal instructional phase. This had an

advantage in that it simulated a realistic real life model of SSW use. Because of a number of

scheduling conflicts, the study had to be compacted to a period of about seven weeks, which still

allowed for about three weeks of preparation time for the ILT, after the series of lectures ended.

3. The issue of formal and informal learning – what was measured?

Some questions could be raised about whether the results can be assumed to be reflective of

the formal learning that took place in the model, or merely indicative of informal learning. This

is a potential limitation of the study.

Although the technology tools were ubiquitous in both phase one (the formal, classroom

instruction part) and phase two (the informal, student self-study period, after classes), some

questions might be raised about whether they were appropriately used in the first phase, given

that their use was essentially optional, while classroom teacher interaction was a constant. On the

other hand, a number of authors (Leslie & Landon, 2008; Margaryan et al., 2008) identified the

informal learning as an important modality even within the formal academic environment.

Oblinger (2005b) defines informal learning as a self-directed and internally motivated activity,

which can be facilitated by social technologies. Information and communication technologies

(ICT), that support both synchronous and asynchronous interaction, are thought to be well

disposed to augment and enhance these informal learning processes.


The researcher used the definition proposed by Trinder et al. (2008) which holds that any

structured learning provided by an educational institution is considered formal learning. In this

sense, both phases of the course can be considered in the context of formal learning.

External constraints
4. Librarians’ “limitations”

The librarian-instructors were facing two somewhat related challenges. The particular

software versions selected for the treatment group (SSW users) required a relatively steep

learning curve, particularly when considering the condensed timeframe of the actual class

delivery period. This in itself acted as a barrier in getting full buy-in on the use the technologies.

The other barrier was that the instructors had limited experience in complex instructional design

in a highly technological environment – particularly with the design of synchronous activities.

Finally, as will be discussed under ethical issues, from an equity standpoint it was difficult to

predict the impacts of the two different sets of technologies on the two respective class sections,

that is whether either group might be disadvantaged by getting different toolsets. There was not

enough time to answer these lingering questions and the final instructional design used the

lowest common denominator approach. Rather than moulding the course material to the specific

technologies, the librarians decided that they would use the technologies to the extent that these

technologies could fit to the legacy course content.

5. Ethical issues and constraints

The researcher’s affiliation with the University in a role responsible for information

technology in the library had the following aspects and implications.


The library’s strategic plan is aligned with the broader strategic plan of the University.

Making technology a true differentiator is one of the strategic goals. To support this objective,

the role of the library IT department is to identify, acquire and maintain innovative technologies

to support the research, teaching, and learning needs of the University, on and off-campus. The

library is also part of a shared culture of Ontario based university libraries, often working

collaboratively toward the furthering of technology innovation in libraries. Web 2.0 technologies

had been considered in this context. University libraries, not unlike their parent institutions, have

been facing the same challenges with respect ICT, which include high costs, little control over

the changes in technology (this is driven by the technology industry), and the struggle to fit and

mold these library technologies to meet user expectations. These expectations in turn have been

shaped in no small part by the simplicity of emerging, web-based consumer technologies. Thus

researching SSW’s impacts on campus suited both the personal interest of the researcher and

held the promise of gaining valuable insights for the benefit of the University and the broader


The researcher’s potential biases, for example his close affiliation with the library were

assessed by the Ethical Review Boards of both the University of Toronto and the University,

where the research was conducted. Both Boards were satisfied that the researcher acted at arm’s

length in the instructional processes in the study, i.e. no reporting relationship existed between

the researcher and the instructors. The researcher had no control over the course design,

instructional methods, etc. (As it will be discussed later, this in some respects proved to be an

impediment to the execution of the experiment.) As well, no conflict of interest was present with

respect to students, whose participation was voluntary.


Equity was a major ethical consideration from the instructional design standpoint. The

librarians did not want to utilize functionalities of SSW that they saw lacking in the LMS. For

example they were averse to integrating Facebook for the in-class treatment because of the

perception that the control group would be disadvantaged. Similarly, the librarians rejected the

idea of creating a class space on the social bookmarking service, since there were no

equivalencies provided by WebCT. This type of approach watered down some of SSW features

and functions within the class.

Other ethical issues included constraints on the researcher’s ability to ask study participants

to refrain from switching course sections during the study. This constraint was placed by the

Ethical Review Board at the University, out of concerns that such restrictions would infringe on

students’ freedom. While the questionnaire included an item that was later used to filter and

exclude cases where participants may have received mixed treatment, one cannot rule out the

possibility that students from the two sections did talk to one another about the techniques and

methods in their respective sections, even if they did not actually participate in the opposite class

sections. As Creswell (2008p. 309) points out, “the diffusion of treatments [...] for the control

group and the experimental groups need to be different.” Otherwise this would present a threat to

the internal validity of the study design. It was not possible for the researcher to keep the two

groups entirely separate.

6. The role of the LMS in the overall course framework.

Finally, it should be noted that the LMS use was mandated in the larger course framework.

As soon as the library instruction ended, the treatment group students needed to revert to using it

immediately, in order to continue with the remainder of the course. This meant that the treatment

group was exposed to the LMS during phase two of the study. Although the LMS was not used

for the information literacy instruction in case of the treatment group, it still proved to be a

competing tool to SSW, likely in phase two.

Among the likely explanations for the primacy of LMS are the following factors

a. that it was the tool sanctioned by the chief instructor

b. its use was more overarching in the course context

c. students used it in other courses, and students were conditioned to the procedures and

routines of the LMS (always the same authentication, familiarity with interface and

functions, etc.)

Recommendations and future research

Based on the findings of this research study, future research is needed in the following areas:

1. To understand the divergence on the uptake of various social software tools amongst Net

Generation students. Both the literature and this research agree that the penetration of

these technologies varies greatly. While social software as a class of computing

technology can be defined as fairly homogenous, students clearly show preference toward

certain sub-types of SSW (such as social networking). The utility of different SSW tools

beyond SNS seems appealing for education, but this is not yet evidenced convincingly in

students’ behaviour. Understanding the factors behind this divergence would enable

educational institutions to tailor these technologies more appropriately if they want to

integrate them in the instructional process.

2. To evaluate whether properly supported and mandated use of various SSW in the formal

instructional environment leads to better outcomes.


If the institutional mandate includes a high use of technology in teaching and

learning, they should consider mandating social software selectively. This should

include instructional support for faculty to properly design courses to mesh with

the unique characteristics of SSW, and mandate/reward the use of these

technologies by students.

3. To validate and further expand our understanding of the correlations between students’

experience with SSW and their willingness to adopt these technologies for learning. We

also need to understand the degree to which positive experiences with SSW can be

translated in the teaching and learning process.


The injection of SSW in the formal instructional environment needs to be a

mutual learning process by both the educational institution and the students. This

is still an emerging area of technology and a clear gap exists between the

stakeholders’ views regarding the mandate of these tools in the learning context.

This gap should be closed by instituting more extensive evaluation of the learning

experience with these technologies than in the case with traditional, mature

technologies. Faculty and students have to have a more active dialogue and

feedback process when engaged with SSW technologies. Administration needs to

recognize the importance of proper assessment of SSW and support these efforts.

4. To understand the factors influencing the dynamics of control pertaining SSW use in the

instructional context. This study highlighted potential factors such as students’ maturity,

technology skills, or factors inherent in the specific technologies. Other factors such as

learning styles should be explored. The question of controlling technology has important

implications for learning. Educational institutions often view technology through a

utilitarian lens as it affords greater efficiencies and control. However, this view is being

increasingly challenged by the recognition that students’ achieve better learning

outcomes when they have greater control of their own learning process. Social software

promises the affordance of such control, although there are some disparities between

previous research and this research study on the factors influencing students taking

advantage of the affordances of “built in control” in social software.


Institutions using SSW in instruction should pay special attention to students with

lesser technology skills. While generally this is true for any technology enhanced

teaching and learning environment, in the case of SSW both the negative and

positive effects could have a larger impact on this population.


5. To understand the extent to which intrinsic factors, such as motivation, play in the

adoption of SSW in formal learning environments. This study found some clues that

members in the non-SSW sanctioned control group sought out the use of the sanctioned

SSW tools. While the study clearly proved that the lack of mandating of these

technologies was the major impediment to their successful integration in teaching and

learning, there were other intrinsic factors (possibly students’ motivational factors) which

countered this trend.


Institutional efforts should be made to properly market the uses of SSW

technologies if wholesale mandating of use is not warranted. This, coupled with

thoughtful instructional design, can overcome the negative perceptions of the

SSW technologies – which appears to be a barrier to students’ use. As well, these

efforts can increase students’ motivation.

6. To further explore the gender differences in the extent of engagement with SSW, and

how males and females might employ alternative strategies for collaboration in a

technology enhanced teaching environment.


Faculty should recognize potential gender differences in collaboration using

technology in the learning environment. Males can potentially benefit more from

SSW. However, not enough is known about the factors contributing to this gap.

7. To explore how students’ age and previous university experience influence their use of

emerging technologies in the academic context. The dissertation research suggests that

younger students might be negatively affected by a technologically demanding

instructional infrastructure, particularly if not enough support is offered to help them

navigate these environments.


When the introduction of emerging SSW technologies is considered in the

teaching and learning process, it should be done carefully, particularly with

younger students. Faculty should make sure that these technologies are introduced

judiciously and selectively so they do not overwhelm students. Faculty may need

wider institutional support for setting up appropriate instructional design.

8. To further explore the interrelationship of students’ digital skills, particularly with the

various types of SSW technologies, and the academic experience with these technologies,

including the usage patterns and outcomes. This research should attempt to measure

actual skills, rather than self-reported skills.


Institutions considering introducing supposedly autonomous, self-governing

technologies such as social software in the learning ecology, should take extreme

care that

• Both instructors and students are supported in using the technology and that

no assumptions are made about the “ease of use” of these technologies, or the

proficiencies of users.

• These tools are aligned with the pedagogies and instructional strategies, so

there is a compelling reason for using them.

• The introduction of these tools is selective and takes into consideration the

students’ actual skill levels with the technology – although admittedly it

would be difficult to get a good reading on these skills.

9. To explore whether changes in students’ attitudes toward technology use in the classroom

indeed correlate with better learning outcomes. The current research only measured pre-

existing attitudes.


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Appendix A - Invitation to participate in a study

Dear …student.

You are invited to participate in a research project conducted by me, Gabor Feuer, as part of my
doctoral thesis through the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto.

Please review the following information and I will personally come to your first class to explain
and answer any questions you may have.

I am conducting research on students’ use of emerging technologies, such as social software (e.g.
blogs, wikis, social networking sites). I am particularly interested in aspects of these tools that
promote learning. I hope that the data collected will help me achieve a better understanding
about students’ use of social software technologies and the factors that impact on their use for
academic purposes. It is hoped that this investigation will yield implications for the appropriate
implementation and use of technologies in our higher education system.

All students in the “… Course” are invited to participate in this study. Participants will be asked
to complete two online surveys: one at the beginning and at the end of the course. These surveys
will require about twenty minutes each of your time. Both surveys will ask about your
experience with and use of technologies. In addition, I would ask you to grant me access to your
information literacy test scores, and to examine the content (if any) produced by you using the
technology tools during the course. From this information, I will compare your responses to the
other students in this study.

There is no foreseeable risk, harm or inconvenience to your participation in my study. There is

also no foreseeable direct benefit, although as an incentive and compensation for your time, I
will offer participants a chance to win an iPhone.

Should you have any questions prior to the first class, feel free to contact me. My contact
information is [deleted].

Thank you for your attention.

Gabor Feuer

Appendix B - Student consent and pre-test survey


Appendix C – Post-test survey


Appendix D – Table 39. Students’ view of SSW and final

ILT scores
Table 40. Students view of SSW and final ILT scores

Post-ILT score N Mean SD


Blogs-suitable for my PERSONAL use to help with studying and learning low 23 2.52 1.344

medium 30 2.50 1.167

high 24 2.79 1.318

Total 77 2.60 1.259

Wikis-suitable for my PERSONAL use to help with studying and learning low 23 3.57 1.161

medium 32 3.25 1.295

high 24 3.83 1.090

Total 79 3.52 1.207

Facebook suitable for my PERSONAL use to help with studying and learning low 24 2.83 1.341

medium 30 2.80 1.270

high 24 2.58 1.213

Total 78 2.74 1.263

Delicious or other bookmarking/tagging tool suitable for my PERSONAL use low 17 2.82 1.468
to help with studying and learning
medium 20 2.65 1.387

high 18 3.06 1.349

Total 55 2.84 1.385

Blogs-suitable in university classes to help me studying learning low 24 2.79 1.351

medium 30 2.67 1.213

high 24 2.42 1.248

Total 78 2.63 1.260


Wikis-suitable in university classes to help me studying learning low 23 2.61 1.469

medium 31 3.13 1.284

high 24 3.29 1.268

Total 78 3.03 1.348

Facebook-suitable in university classes to help me studying learning low 24 2.04 1.334

medium 30 2.50 1.383

high 24 2.12 1.262

Total 78 2.24 1.331

Delicious-suitable in university classes to help me studying learning low 21 2.48 1.401

medium 20 2.85 1.089

high 17 2.71 1.448

Total 58 2.67 1.303

Blogs-PRIMARILY for my PERSONAL use and for fun low 23 3.35 1.402

medium 31 2.97 1.449

high 24 3.25 1.452

Total 78 3.17 1.427

Wikis-PRIMARILY for my PERSONAL use and for fun low 24 2.79 1.382

medium 31 2.74 1.182

high 23 3.22 1.445

Total 78 2.90 1.325

Facebook -PRIMARILY for my PERSONAL use and for fun low 24 4.62 .875

medium 31 4.19 1.376

high 24 4.71 .859

Total 79 4.48 1.108

Delicious -PRIMARILY for my PERSONAL use and for fun low 20 3.15 1.725

medium 21 2.19 1.123

high 17 2.41 1.460


Total 58 2.59 1.487

Blogs- should NOT be used as teaching tool low 23 3.61 1.234

medium 32 3.25 1.244

high 22 3.50 1.439

Total 77 3.43 1.292

Wikis- should NOT be used as teaching tool low 22 3.27 1.352

medium 31 3.52 1.288

high 23 3.39 1.196

Total 76 3.41 1.267

Facebook- should NOT be used as teaching tool low 24 3.88 1.484

medium 30 3.67 1.422

high 23 3.61 1.469

Total 77 3.71 1.441

Delicious- should NOT be used as teaching tool low 19 3.11 1.595

medium 23 3.52 1.275

high 16 3.56 1.548

Total 58 3.40 1.450

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