Social networking systems as a vehicle to promote sense of community and performance in online classes

Jonathan Mark Woodward

Abstract

Academicians are navigating through the intersection of information technology and social change. The path that educators choose will help determine the future of higher education in traditional and online settings. The journey of teachers is clouded by the abundance and rapid creation of emerging technologies, but the trends of Net Generation students offer direction. Among Web 2.0 applications, social networking systems (SNSs) offer students a new approach to communicating, learning, and collaborating. The sociocentric view of knowledge and learning and the theories of Vygotsky and Dewey are helping to drive educators to look for a solution to a missing link in the current e-learning ecosystem, which many identify to be community. This study sought to identify whether SNSs promote sense of community, connecting, learning, and performing better than learning management systems (LMSs) in community college elearning classrooms. Chaos theory was used as a metaphor to identify variables. The results indicated that students in the SNS environment performed significantly better than students in the LMS environment by almost an entire letter grade. SNS students made dramatic gains toward achieving the performance level of face-to-face students. The findings revealed that females gained more than males over time in e-learning for sense of community, connecting, and learning. SNS students did not outperform LMS students on sense of community, connecting, or learning. The results could offer educators direction in the pursuit of a healthy e-learning ecosystem that is flexible and adaptive. The findings are applicable to scholars, teachers, administrators, and policy makers.