First semester students and sophomores spend more time on Facebook

Posted by reyjunco on May 24, 2011 in Research |

Lately, I’ve spent quite a bit of time analyzing data we collected in the Fall of 2010. While I was conducting a completely unrelated analysis, I noticed differences in the mean time spent on Facebook by students in different classes so I thought I’d take a closer look.

I ran an analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) with student class rank as the independent variable, self-reported average minutes per day spent on Facebook as the dependent variable, and gender, ethnicity, and highest parental education level as covariates (N=2,346). For post hoc tests, I used the least significant difference (LSD) correction. The reason I chose to control for gender, ethnicity, and parental education level is because there’s plenty of research to show that these background variables are quantitatively and qualitatively related to technology use. If you’re not familiar with research on the digital divide, I highly recommend you read this paper on variation in Internet skills among youth.

Here’s what I found:

  1. First semester students (FF) spent as much time as sophomores (SO) on Facebook.
  2. First semester students (FF) and sophomores (SO) spent more time on Facebook than Juniors (JR).
  3. Juniors (JR) spent more time on Facebook than both Seniors (SR) and first year students not in their first semester (FR).

Facebook use by class
These results can be summarized by the following equation:

FF = SO > JR > SR =FR

So, first semester students and sophomores spent more time on Facebook than any other group. I’ve got my own thoughts about why this might be, but I’d love to hear what you think. Please share your ideas in the comments below.

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  • Anonymous

    So, second semester freshmen cut their facebook time in half?  and then they jump back up to the same level in their sophomore year?  Do they drop off again in the 2nd semester of sophomore year?  What about second semester of junior year?

  • Great point, Jeff. The class rank data are from the university registrar and unfortunately, they only separate out first semester students from other first year students. We could make some guesstimates about semester standing based on credits earned, but it would only be a guesstimate as the university does not code semester standing in their database.

  • Great stuff Rey.  Has anyone looked at High School Juniors and Seniors use of Facebook? It would be interesting to see if there were any connections or correlations between those students and first semester and sophomores.  As more high school students come to college already with communities, is Facebook hindering their ability to join new ones at college initially?

  • Shawneen

    Amazing to see how much of the day is spent on Facebook!  Very interesting to say the least.

  • Mary Wells

    How was the “time spent on facebook” data collected? (Sorry if this was covered in an earlier post)

  • Excellent questions, Ed. We know from our work that first year students “bring” a community of friends to campus thanks to Facebook. It would be great to have longitudinal data on levels of use and outcomes– this approach would fit nicely with a longitudinal project I’m planning. 

  • Here’s my data on overall time spent texting, searching online, on Facebook, talking on the phone, on email, and IM: http://blog.reyjunco.com/students-spend-a-lot-of-time-facebooking-searching-and-texting

  • I asked students to determine the average amount of time they spent daily and also the amount of time they spent
    “yesterday” on Facebook (to provide multiple measures for accuracy checks in reporting). Time spent on Facebook was evaluated by asking students: “On
    average, about how much time per day do you spend on the following activities?”
    and “How much time did you spend on each of these activities yesterday?” with prompts
    for Facebook. Since average amount of time spent using Facebook and time spent using Facebook “yesterday” were highly and significantly correlated, I used average time spent on Facebook for ease of interpretation. 

  • Off-the-cuff guess: the 1st semester, everyone is in involvement overload.  They want to meet new people and know what’s going on, and they also want to keep in touch with their friends from home.  Second semester, they settle into their group of friends, need to spend more time on schoolwork when grades are lower than expected, lose track of high school friends, etc.

    By sophomore year, hopefully they find some equilibrium and work facebook into the rest of their lives, spending less and less on it as they establish more long-lasting real-world connections.

  • Going to look at students who come to campus *without* having had significant access to technology and the ability to “‘bring’ a community of friends” with them?  That is the group in which I am most interested.  It’s next on my to-do list right underneath “finish dissertation” (so it may be a bit before I can get to it…).

  • Important and much needed work, Kevin. Looking forward to chatting with you about it. 

  • Dan Hoizner

    Would be interesting to find out if non-conventional students who don’t have as large of a connection to facebook and the like start off with relatively low usage and trend up to what the majority use-time for their respective class standing is after a few semesters.

  • Dr. Junco,

    Did your study focus on what the students in the varying class levels engage in while on Facebook?  It would be interesting to know how much was personal, academic, entrepreneural, etc.  

  • Yes Eric, I have data on that. I am considering writing a paper about it. 

  • Kelley

    To piggy-back on Liz’s comment, I agree, students’ first two years are spent on creating their social circles in college as they meet new people which they find through FB.  Go to a party and it’s no longer, “Hey how’s it going, I’m so-and-so”, it’s, “Hey, what’s your FB?”  And then they spend their time looking into the lives of each other.  Typically, the importance of college is not really felt until they enter their major’s anyway since most (not all) students feel the first two years of taking english and math are pretty meaningless and a waste of time (interesting convos with my two younger brothers who are seniors in college). So, FB becomes the de-facto course-of-choice.

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