My newest paper, ￼Student class standing, Facebook use, and academic performance was just published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.
In previous work, I’ve discovered that social media use is related to a host of academic and psychosocial outcomes. Most notably, there is a relationship between Facebook use and academic performance and Facebook use and student engagement. When looking at time spent on the site, there is a negative relationship between Facebook use and outcome variables; however, when we parse out different ways of using Facebook, then the relationships become more complex. For instance, what students do on Facebook is more positively predictive of academic and engagement outcomes. My previous research has suggested that using Facebook in certain ways might be driving the negative relationship seen between time spent on Facebook and academic performance. Most notably, using Facebook during class or while studying seemed to explain these negative relationships.
In the current study, I surveyed over 1,600 college students and examined the time they spent on Facebook by splitting that time into two categories: 1) Time spent multitasking (i.e., task switching) with Facebook while studying and 2) “Regular” time spent on Facebook. Based on previous research, my hypothesis was that multitasking would drive the negative relationships seen between Facebook use and grades but that “regular” Facebook use would not. I also examined students at different class ranks (freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors) to see if there were any differences that might be attributed to academic maturation.
Here are a few highlights of my findings:
- Seniors spent less time on Facebook than students at other class ranks
- Seniors also spent less time multitasking with Facebook than students at other class ranks
- Regular time spent on Facebook (not multitasking) was negatively related to actual GPA for freshmen but not for students at other class ranks
- Time spent on Facebook multitasking was negatively related to actual GPA for students at all class ranks except for seniors
What does it all mean?
Freshmen need to feel socially integrated into their college or university, for if they don’t, they’re at risk of dropping out. One of the ways that freshmen maintain a connection to previous friends and reach out, engage with, and learn about new friends is through Facebook. Therefore, Facebook plays an important role in helping freshmen adjust to college. However, the ways in which Facebook use are negatively related to grades suggests that freshmen have difficulty regulating their Facebook use in the service of academics. I hypothesize that this isn’t an issue related to Facebook per se, but the relationship between Facebook and grades provides a way of capturing self-regulation skills in freshmen. In other words, the pattern of Facebook use helps us see something about self-regulation we might not otherwise be able to measure. This is also evidenced by how regular use of Facebook for students at other class ranks is not related to academic performance.
Another interesting finding was that seniors did not exhibit a negative relationship between multitasking with Facebook and grades. While this is unexpected given the cognitive science literature on task switching, there have been other studies (including some of my own) that have found that use of certain technologies and use of them in specific ways while engaged in learning tasks do not impact outcomes. This area is ripe for further research and I expect to see more in the coming years elucidating what characteristics of social technologies and of their uses mitigates task-switching detriments in cognitive outcomes.
You can read the full paper here.