Third International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology
Susan L. O’Donnell, George Fox University, Newberg, OR, USA


Students (and faculty) of all ages are increasingly using social networking websites, such as MySpace and Facebook, as an important means of communication. Recent news reports in the US suggest that Facebook could soon be as important to youth culture as Google. For example, one report suggested that a person planning a trip may just ask their Facebook friends where to stay, rather than doing a more traditional online hotel or resort search. Students are known to use these sites in such varied ways as comparing their tastes in movies or music with their friends, sharing personal messages, sharing photos and videos, something called “poking” each other (akin to just saying “hi – I’m here”), and connecting with people across different settings of their lives (work, school, hometowns). They even post their current mood at the top of their profile, sometimes changing it multiple times per day.

I would like to explore different ways of using these sites to engage higher levels of critical thinking in psychology. One example of a way that this might be done is by encouraging students to communicate with students from other countries and cultures and to discover as much about specific practices in those cultures as they can, then report back on those practices to the class (perhaps in a child development class, have them find out about child-rearing values or in a psychology of religion class, find out about religious practices). This can be an important tool in teaching students to think more globally, particularly for students in small, homogenous communities. If this PIE is approved, I would like to bring up the following discussion questions:

Are there specific negative or positive benefits to the use of social networking sites, as opposed to traditional forms of communication? Can Facebook be an advantage over email? A disadvantage?

How can these sites be used to demonstrate certain psychological principles from different domains (such as social psychology, e.g., conformity; or developmental differences in expectations, e.g., sleeping arrangements)?

How can these sites be used to teach psychological content?

How can these sites be used to create new understandings across various lines (gender, culture, religion, etc)?

It could prove very beneficial for faculty to get connected and to figure out ways of using students’ current practices; perhaps even allowing us to form virtual learning communities, where students from different institutions work together on the same learning goals. It would be interesting to talk about this idea with other faculty from other cultures so that the groundwork can be laid for international and cross-culture connections. Perhaps in the future, a study trip could be arranged for students from different countries to meet each other. Very cool!

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