The use of social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, in the classroom is growing, as is student time spent on exploring such sites. However, little research has been done to examine the impact on grades. Does actively participating in social media (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, blogs, YouTube, etc.) impact one's academic performance? Is social media usage impacted by the ownership of smart phones?
This fall, a colleague, two students, and I attempted to answer these questions. An online questionnaire asking students about social media, and its usage, was sent by e-mail to all students (approximately 2,100) at a small, liberal arts college.
The following hypotheses were posed:
Hypothesis 1a: Students with smart phones are more likely to be involved with social networking than students without smart phones.
Hypothesis 1b: Students with smart phones will spend a longer amount of time on social networking than students without smart phones
Hypothesis 2: Social media use will differ based on class standing.
Hypothesis 3: Social Science majors will utilize social media more than Natural Science or Humanities and Fine Arts majors
Hypothesis 4: A negative relationship exists between social media use and grade point average.
What did we find?
Of the approximately 2,100 surveys sent, 430 were received (20.47%). The primary respondents were freshman (42.5%) followed by sophomores (21.6%), seniors (19.8%) and juniors (14.8%). Gender was queried, but more than two-thirds (69.6%) chose not to answer. A significant majority (83.4%) had a grade point average (GPA) above 3.00, with 45.1% self-reporting a GPA above 3.50, 38.3% with a GPA between 3.00 and 3.50, 13.3% between 2.50 and 3.00, 2.7% between 2.00 and 2.5, and 0.5% below 2.00.
31.7% of students were able to access at least one networking site on their phone, with 98.5% able to access Facebook, 72.7% able to access YouTube, 58.3% able to access Twitter, 49.2% able to access MySpace, 45.5% able to access blogs, and 34.8% able to access LinkedIn.
Of the 430 respondents, 97% use one or more of the following social networking sites: Twitter, YouTube, blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, or MySpace. The largest percentage of respondents used Facebook (95.4%), followed by YouTube (90.7%), reading blogs (27.6%), Twitter (17.6%), LinkedIn (7.2%) and MySpace (3.9%). Given the small sample size for MySpace, we chose not to include it in our analysis.
The time spent on the social networking sites echoed the order listed above, with 78.3 % indicating they spent the most time on Facebook, followed by YouTube (58.4% ranked it 2nd), reading blogs (41.7% ranked it third), Twitter (26.3 % ranked it fourth), and LinkedIn (43.0 % ranked it last).
How much time do students spent on social networking sites? Students, for the most part, spend less than 15 minutes a day on most social media sites. However, Facebook is the exception. A significant majority of students (77.2%) spend more than 30 minutes a day on Facebook.
There was general support for hypotheses 1a and 1b. Students who have smart phones were more likely to both access social media tools and spend time engaging with others. From an educational standpoint, this means there may very well be a “digital divide” between those who are making connections with others, and those who might be left behind. Similarly, professors may have to be wary of assigning projects involving social media to students as some may have an advantage in completing the work than others.
There was partial support for hypothesis 2. Juniors and seniors were more likely to use Twitter and LinkedIn, and read blogs, then their younger colleagues. However, other than Facebook, there was no significant difference in the amount of time spent accessing these sites. As expected tools such as Twitter and LinkedIn have more relevance to older students as they try to connect with others in their job search or find work. Similarly, perhaps younger students use Facebook longer as they are building their social connections, whereas older students already have a well-established network of friends and colleagues.
There was also minor support for hypothesis 3. Social science majors were more likely to use LinkedIn and spend more time on Facebook. However, it was the Humanities and Fine Arts majors who were more likely to use Twitter and read blogs. Perhaps the difference lies in the emphasis placed on the written word, and Tweeting and reading blogs has more appeal to this group.
Finally, there was little support for hypothesis 4. GPA did not play a role in the use of any of the major social networking tools, and minutes spent on several of the sites did not differ. The major difference lay in time spent with Facebook, which did show a negative relationship between time spent on the social network and one’s grades. As noted in table 1, while most students spent 15 minutes or less accessing that particular tool, Facebook was the only social networking site where a majority of students spent more than 30 minutes of their time accessing. Students and teachers should be concerned about its impact on learning.