There is a growing body of literature focusing on the relationship between the social and emotional wellbeing of teenagers and their use of online networking tools (Cummings, Lee & Kraut, 2006; Haase & Wellman, 2004). Some studies have looked more specifically at self-representation within social networking sites. There seems to be evidence to support the idea that the personality created online on these platform differs from their social image in the daily context (Acquisti & Gross, 2006; Stutzman, 2006).
Research also seems to imply that the availability of this different platform for self-representation may be therapeutic for some (Lo, Wang & Fang, 2005; Boyd, 2008; Ellison, Steinfield & Lampe, 2007). Mazer, Murphy and Simonds (2007) have explored further the potential benefits for at risk students and studied the impact of teacher self-disclosure on Facebook on student motivation, learning, and classroom climate. They believe that the use of Facebook in the educational context can have a positive effect on the student-teacher relationship, which can in turn lead to positive student outcomes. Teachers using Facebook are indeed perceived by students as attempting to develop positive relationships. Use of Facebook as part of the student-teacher relationship was seen as creating a higher level of motivation and a more comfortable classroom climate.
This paper takes the existing literature as a basis to explore in further details, through grounded methodology, the perceptions adolescents with special needs have of virtual platforms or ‘third space’, such as social media site, massive multiplayer online games (MMOGs) and other online synchronous and asynchronous virtual platforms. The qualitative data collected from adolescents at the end of their secondary education is analyzed through grounded theory inductive processes and emerging theory on the relevance of the third space to students with special needs is presented.
The discussion section examines how these findings might be relevant to educators in maintaining engagement in this specific student population. It examines the practicalities of bringing these results back to the classroom and school environment in order to rethink engagement and pedagogy.