Social Networking and Learning

The IT department at CPUT places communication at the core of teaching and learning for IT students in order to develop critical soft skills (Sylvester and Greenidge, 2010). Computer-mediated teaching and learning at the institution enhance communication which facilitates the development of cognitive skills of students (Alcock, 2009). The university resolved to this form of learning due to student under-preparedness, lack of student engagement in the classroom, link theory and practice, and to give students the necessary 21st-century skills (Greenhow, 2009). Instructors work with students in the classroom and students can access notes from the social sites. The young generation is more experienced in tactic knowledge sharing tools via the internet that they can apply in-class work (Warschauer, 2009). Recent studies indicate that about 79.31 percent of the IT students engaged in virtual learning find the system very convenient. This is due to the fact that social sites are accessible from different places both in the institution and at home (Knight and Rochon, 2012).
Over the past years, virtual learning has gained popularity among IT students due to its ease of use. The use of technology creates flexibility in the learning process and exposes students to different learning environments (Razmerita, Kircher and Sudzina, 2009). Social networks have increased the potential of e-learning as a mode of educational delivery. Learners have uninterrupted learning platforms that require minimum instructor supervision. Traditional learning methods depend on static learning environments such as classrooms, laboratories, teaching methods (Romm-Livermore and Setzekorn, 2009). This limits the flexibility of the learning process to include dynamic learning methods. The use of social networks among IT students enables them to be more creative and innovative within the technology sector (Lindberg and Olofsson, 2010). However, social media has some disadvantages when used as a learning platform (Dickson and Holley, 2010). Its efficiency and mobility require continuous accessibility of the internet in order to access learning materials. In most cases, social networking sites are utilized for leisure, and some students find it difficult to utilize the same platform for learning purposes. This reduces the efficiency and the extent to which this platform is an adequate source of knowledge (Wankel, 2010).
Learning about professionalism occurs through collaboration whereby peer groups are important sources of information and support for students. Professionalism begins in the undergraduate education stage for IT students. This entails developing work ethics, behavior, and attitude as well as accumulating knowledge (Dickson and Holley, 2010). Professionalism helps in the public and private aspects of identity and develops through interaction with others. Some IT students post unprofessional content on social networking sites, which is a negative reflection of their professionalism. However, social networking sites, media-sharing sites, wikis, and blogs provide an interaction arena where socialization and peer collaborations boost the development of professionalism (Kolek and Saunders, 2008). This helps form the professional identity of undergraduate students while still in college. Current studies indicate that over 90 percent of undergraduate students use social networking sites. Students utilize them mostly for peer interaction, but some of them exploit their educational potential. Peer groups among undergraduates are important sources of learning and social networks facilitate knowledge exchange (Dasgupta, 2010).
Social networking sites have been used in areas of computing and civil engineering according to Nicol et al. (2009). These sites are peer collaborations that provide a resource that can be utilized as a platform for enhancing knowledge acquisition. Students learn by consulting various sources and by sharing objectives through the virtual learning environment. Students connected through social sites can share web resources and links related to educational content. They also create an online space that engages students through reflections and assessments of internet resources. Students engage with these sites by posting content, commenting on posts, viewing posts, and sharing updated posts. Weblinks posted on social sites act as the main source of information to peer groups (Chan and Cmor, 2009). When peers come across good educational resources they post their links on the social sites. This makes it easy for other students to access the information, which would be otherwise hard to find.
Caruso and Salaway (2008) found that 49.7 percent of students in the U.S use social sites to communicate with peers about course-related topics. Ipsos MORI (2008) found that 37 percent of first-year undergraduate students in the UK use these sites to discuss coursework. Feature incorporated in social networking sites makes it possible to support the personalization of student-generated content. Facebook features encourage students to engage in creative social learning processes that extend beyond traditional learning processes and institutions. This increases the benefits accrued from wide and diverse sources of information (Greenhow, 2009). Students utilize opportunities provided by educational competitions available on social networking sites. Students in the IT and computing world have a wide range of application development competitions that expand their creativity. Facebook supports development competitions that are available to students all over the world. This provides IT students with a learning opportunity that is not available in the traditional learning environment (Alcock, 2009).