The Pew Internet Project released the results of its latest study–Teens and Social Media–on December 19 and this report is a must read for anyone who teaches, whether at the primary, secondary, or post-secondary level.
There is a lot in this report to ponder, but from my perspective, the most interesting findings fall into five areas. The first is the continued growth of online content creation by teens. According to the report, almost two-thirds of all teens (age 12-17) have created some sort of online content (pictures, blog postings, social networking profiles, videos, etc.) in the past year. Almost two-thirds.
That means that when they arrive on college campuses, a substantial majority of traditional aged freshmen will already be more than passive consumers of online content. Much (if not most) of what we do in creating online learning resources is predicated on putting up websites that push content at students–which means we are increasingly out of sync with what those students do online. Given that the Pew report provides evidence a steady increase in content creation by teens over the past three years, it is going to be incumbent on us to figure out ways to change our approach to resource creation to get back in sync with how our students see the Internet.
The second intriguing finding in the report is how gendered online behavior is among teens. With the exception of posting online video, girls are much more likely than boys to take part in content creation online. For example, 35% of teen girls blog, while only 20% of teen boys do and 54% of teen girls post pictures online, while only 40% of boys do. Boys are twice as likely as girls (19% vs. 10%) to post online videos.
National enrollment trends indicate that an ever greater share of traditional aged undergraduate students are female, and here at George Mason our numbers bear that out. Of first-time, full-time freshmen enrolling in the fall of 2007, 56% were female, and our new transfers enrolling in the fall of 2007 were 57% female. Given these data, combined with the Pew results, the necessity of rethinking our approach to students’ online behavior is even more acute.
The third nugget that I found interesting in the report is that the majority of American children aged 12-17 have created at least one profile on a social networking site like Facebook or MySpace. Pew’s figure was 55% and once they reach college, as Fred Stutzman’s research shows, it’s safe to say that this number climbs rapidly. I’m still skeptical that social networking provides anything more than a good way to communicate with our students, since I have yet to see a good example of an educational application of social networks. But the fact remains that social networking continues to grow as one of the main ways young people use the Internet.
The fourth piece of information that I found intriguing is that young people are much more likely to restrict access to their online content than are adults. This is a topic that Dan, Tom, and I have explored in some detail at Digital Campus and I’m heartened to find data that support the notion that teens are being more careful with their online lives than I had previously believed they were.
Finally, the Pew report validates something I wrote about almost two years ago–the slow (or maybe not so slow) death of email. According to Pew, email is the means of communication of last resort among America’s teens. Surprisingly (at least to me), the landline telephone still comes out on top, but young people’s non-use of email is best summarized by a quotation in the San Francisco Chronicle (December 20) by Jocelyn Lee. On email, this 18 year-old says, “I don’t use e-mail too much because I don’t know my friends’ e-mails. My mom uses e-mail a lot, though.”
Supporting this statement are Pew’s data, which say that the means of communication with friends used every day by American teens are:
Landline telephone 39%
In person 31%
Instant messaging 28%
Text messaging 27%
Message via a social network site 21%
Bye-bye email. We loved you once and those of us with gray (or graying) hair will miss you when you’re gone.