A new study finds that Facebook use is correlated to lower GPA for younger students, but the author argues the underlying issue may be self-regulation rather than social networking.
The study was conducted by Iowa State University associate professor Reynol Junco and recently published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. Junco examined the Facebook habits of 1,600 college students in relation to their GPA.
Freshmen spend an average of two hours a day on the site, and for just over half of that time they reported also doing school work. Seniors tended to use Facebook less overall, as well as spending less time on the site while also doing school work.
For freshmen, Facebook use of any type was correlated with lower GPA. However, among sophomores and juniors, only time spent on the site while doing school work hurt academic performance. Facebook use had no negative effect on GPA for seniors.
"It's not just the way students are accessing the site, but the way in which they're using the site that has an effect on academic outcomes," says Junco. In previous research, Junco found that certain types of Facebook use promoted academic success. As students connect with peers and friends online, they develop "a greater sense of commitment to the institution and [an] increased motivation to perform better academically," he says.
Additionally, Junco cautions the negative correlation between Facebook use and GPA for some students may be caused by problems of self-regulation generally, rather than Facebook specifically. Freshmen "haven't developed the self-regulation skills that they need," he says. Seniors are more likely to have those skills, which may explain their reduced Facebook use and its lack of effects on GPA.
Your students probably have better judgment than you think
Overall, Junco argues the evidence suggests social-media use—of the right type—has a positive effect on student engagement and academic success. He notes that if students do not develop a connection to their institution within three to six weeks they "at risk of not coming back." Engaging online can help form that connection (Science Daily, 1/20; Meyer, Campus Technology, 1/22; Bosker, Huffington Post, 6/26/13).
Learn more: Social media, digital identity, and student learning outcomes
What do higher ed leaders need to know about Facebook use and other social media platforms? Here's an excerpt from "A New Perspective: Engaging Students Around Digital Identity."
"Student social media use affects how all units within student affairs achieve their learning outcomes and deliver programming… In particular, integrating social media programming into career services, orientation, residence life, and student conduct can have a significant impact on student learning outcomes."
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