Facebook could be a distraction that drags down grade point averages, or a popular online hangout spot that has no impact on college students’ academics — depending on which university study you read.
Students in a University of New Hampshire marketing research course surveyed more than 1,100 fellow students about their use of popular social media web sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and they found “no correlation between the amount of time students spend using social media and their grades.”
The student researchers classified light users of social media as respondents who spent less than 31 minutes every day on social networking sites. Heavy users, according to the study, spent more than an hour daily on social media sites.
Sixty-three percent of heavy users earned high grades—A’s and B’s—while 65 percent of light users received high marks.
“The study indicates that social media is being integrated with, rather than interfering with, students’ academic lives,” said Chuck Martin, a university adjunct professor whose marketing class conducted the study, released last month. “College students have grown up with social networks, and the study shows they are now simply part of how students interact with each other, with no apparent impact on grades.”
Martin, author of Smarts: Are We Hardwired For Success?, said people spent hours at a time using Facebook and similar sites when social media were introduced in the early and mid-2000s. But Facebook members – including college students – have learned to use the site intermittently, Martin said, while staying in touch with friends, family, and co-workers.
“It has evolved so that people dip in and dip out,” he said. “They use it in short spurts. … They may be using social media 30 seconds at a time, rather than 30 minutes at a time… It’s not that they’ve left life and gone online; it’s just become part of their lives, as opposed to living in a virtual world.”
The University of New Hampshire findings contrasted with Ohio State University research from last year that suggested Facebook had a significant impact on student performance.
Students who reported checking status updates, joining fan groups, and chatting with friends and relatives on Facebook several times a day had a GPA as much as a letter grade lower than their counterparts, according to the Ohio State study, which included 219 college students and was released in April.
Sixty-five percent of Facebook members checked their accounts at least once a day, according to the Ohio State research. Seventy-nine percent of students said Facebook did not have any effect on their academic performance, a finding that seemingly was contradicted by the data.
The University of New Hampshire student research matched findings from a recent Northwestern University study that surveyed 1,000 undergraduates from the University of Illinois, Chicago campus. The research didn’t show a “robust negative relationship between grade point averages and use of Facebook.”
The Northwestern research examined three studies of students’ social media habits, and a summary of the report said researchers “found evidence that Facebook use was slightly more common among individuals with higher grades [in one of the three studies].”
Eszter Hargittai, associate professor of communication studies at Northwestern University and a co-author of the school’s Facebook study, said despite the mixed messages of various research findings, students, parents, and faculty should be leery of students spending hours every day on Facebook.
“If somebody’s spending an inordinate amount of time on Facebook at the expense of studying, his or her academic performance may suffer, just as it might from spending an excessive time on any activity,” Hargittai said. “We need more research with more nuanced data to better understand how social networking site usage may relate to academic performance.”
The New Hampshire student study revealed how ubiquitous Facebook has become among college students.
Ninety-six percent of respondents said they log on to Facebook at least once a day, while 84 percent perused YouTube, and 20 percent read various blogs. A mere 12 percent used MySpace daily, and 10 percent said they log on to LinkedIn.
“With more than 300 million active users of Facebook and with hundreds of millions of YouTube videos watched daily, it was no surprise that student usage mirrored those volumes,” Martin said.
The study also suggested that college students might regulate their use of social media web sites during the school week.
About four in 10 respondents said they increase Facebook usage during the weekends, and 24 percent cut back on Facebook time on Saturdays and Sundays.
About one-third of students said there was no change in their Facebook usage during the weekends.
The New Hampshire research also analyzed the prevalence of Facebook among certain majors. Liberal-arts majors were the most likely to qualify as heavy Facebook users, with Health and Human Services and Life Sciences ranking a close second and third.
Engineering students were the least likely to use Facebook heavily.
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