Blog Post

Could MySpace and Facebook Improve Student-School Relationships?

by June Ahn (find this post and others on my blog

I'm still in the process of finishing up my dissertation, but I'm finding some amazing findings as I go along. Here's one tidbit.

In my study, I built a social network site using Elgg for 2 urban school districts. Classrooms were randomly assigned to use the Elgg site, and I examined whether it improved students' feelings of connectedness with others (the idea is called social capital). I expected that using a social network site in school would improve students' social capital. I also surveyed the students to see if they were members of Facebook (only), MySpace (only), or both FB and MS. I wanted to see if membership in these already existing networks were differently related to social capital. The results for online social capital, or how connected you are with people in your online interactions, were astounding.

The chart below compares the effect of using the school-based site, Facebook, MySpace, and or both FB & MS. The units are in standard deviation changes. So imagine that the student who uses no social network sites has the average level of social capital. The chart below shows that compared to this average student, using a school-imposed social network resulted in about a negative 0.05 standard deviation effect in social capital. Students who used the school-SNS had less online social capital (albeit the effect is very very small).

What is most interesting is the relationship between Facebook, MySpace, and using both on social capital. Students who use MySpace scored about 0.37 standard deviations higher in social capital. Facebook using students scored about 0.56 higher!! And most astounding, students who were members of both online communities scored approximately 0.75 standard deviations higher in social capital.

These effect sizes are pretty large, and suggests that students use MySpace and Facebook to develop positive relationships with others.

Perhaps schools should consider leveraging these already existing youth networks than imposing their own?!?!



Really interesting, and a great question: whether schools should use FB and Myspace to build connectedness. Universities have been doing that, although I haven't seen studies as to whether higher ed students feel increased connectedness/social capital. I've read (and heard anecdotally from profs using FB in class) that higher ed students didn't like having class "groups" in FB because they resented having work and leisure in the same space. But school connectedness would seem to be a very different relationship. Hope you let us know if you publish an article out of this part of your research, and definitely let us know when your dissertation is done! Either @dmlcomp or @hastac would be happy to tweet it out to others who will be interested in your findings.




This is really interesting work, June.  And I see our tweets about it are being retweeted---there is real interest in your conclusions.  Yes, please let us know about future publications and feel free to use HASTAC any way that works for pushing out work or asking questions. 


Hi June, Cool study. How did you measure social capital? Would Facebook and Myspace garner more social capital for a student because a student would necessarily have more relationships to the "outside world" when using FB or MS rather than your custom site? Did your Elgg sites have members besides the students?


Hi June - 

your research sounds really interesting. My questions is an offshoot of Mike's. I was wondering if you had to account in some way for the school SNS reducing social capital b/c it would be seen as uncool (not that it is). So if students were assigned a site, rather than finding one on their own, how that impacted their perception of their own social capital and others' perception of the potential social capital they could raise. Also what were the limitations in terms of the way the student's were allowed to use the site?  The allure of Fb, MySpace, and other sites, is that kids (and others) feel they have autonomy.  They can restrict people from viewing their site, they can say what they want about who they want (well, to an extent). How did students describe their experience using the school site in terms of connectedness to students not asked to participate?


Hi everyone,

Thank you so much for the comments and spreading the word about my work. I will definitely tweet my progress and I'd be happy to distribute the dissertation draft when I'm done!

As for the questions. Mike, I used a modified version of the online social capital scales from Dr. Dmitri Williams for the measure:

Kim, you are spot on with your observations. I also collected qualitative data from student responses, and for the most part, the school-imposed social network was seen as pretty uncool. It was aimed mostly for academic purposes, and even then, not used all that much by their teachers.  I agree with you, I think this "uncool-ness" has much to do with the small decrease in "connectedness" the students felt. Comparatively, FB and MS connect students to a broader world, and we see that in the larger increases in social capital in those communities.

Thanks for the observations and comments!


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