My latest paper Too much face and not enough books: The relationship between multiple indices of Facebook use and academic performance published in Computers in Human Behavior last week reports the findings of a study I conducted with 1,839 undergraduates. I collected data on Facebook use by surveying students and I had access to student grades through the university registrar. To date, there have been three other published studies of Facebook use and academic performance; however, this is the first one to : 1. Use a large sample, 2. Include better estimates of Facebook use (time spent on Facebook, number of times students checked Facebook, and frequency of engaging in Facebook activities), 3. Connect survey data to actual grades, and 4. Use high school GPA as a control variable in order to parse out the variance attributable to pre-existing differences in academic ability and to place other predictors in context.
1. Time spent on Facebook was negatively related to overall college GPA. The average time students spent on Facebook was 106 minutes per day. Each increase of 93 minutes beyond the mean decreased GPA by .12 points in the model. Therefore, I conclude that although this was a significant finding, the real-world impact of the relationship between time spent on Facebook and grades is negligible at best.
2. Frequency of engaging in some Facebook activities such as sharing links and checking up on friends was positively related to GPA while posting status updates was negatively related.
3. The number of times students checked Facebook was only weakly related to GPA.
4. There was not a strong link between time spent on Facebook and time spent studying.
Specific uses of Facebook are related to positive outcomes while others are related to negative ones. Therefore, Facebook use in and of itself is not detrimental to academic outcomes, it depends on how it is used. Using Facebook for socializing is negatively related to GPA while using Facebook for collecting and sharing information is positively related. As the interest in using social media, like Facebook, in educational settings increases, educators must be aware of how to integrate these sites and services in educationally relevant ways.
This study was cross sectional and correlational and while it would be intriguing to be able to say that Facebook use may be causing lower grades, it is equally likely that students who have lower grades happen to use Facebook more. It’s likely that there is a third (or fourth, fifth, etc.) variable that explains and/or mediates the relationship between Facebook use and grades. Likely candidates include student motivation, personality characteristics, and academic attitudes/values.
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