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Study on Facebook and Grades Becomes Learning Experience for Researcher

By Renay San Miguel
Apr 14, 2009 1:17 PM PT

Ohio State University doctoral candidate Aryn Karpinski has conducted the kind of statistical study that guarantees headlines, 20-second mentions on network and local newscasts (usually shoehorned between weather and sports), and lots of comments on tech news Web sites and blogs. She knew she was writing about a media-friendly topic, but she still confesses to receiving a crash-course in sudden news exposure.

Study on Facebook and Grades Becomes Learning Experience for Researcher

The name of her study: "A Description of Facebook Use and Academic Performance Among Undergraduate and Graduate Students." While her findings do not show any direct causation, the survey of 200-plus students show a possible link between Facebook, lower grades and less time spent studying.

Monday's release of the study's findings prior to her presentation at this week's annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in San Diego has resulted in interviews with media outlets ranging from Time Magazine and USA Today to Computerworld. It's also sparked comments like "Well, duh" on Web sites like TG Daily, which used the headline "Facebook Dumbs You Down."

"Oh my gosh, I am a doctoral student," Karpinski, 27, told TechNewsWorld. "I've never had any exposure like this. It's completely new to me. This is not even my dissertation topic. I may have to put that aside for a while."

What's Your Status?

The highlights of her findings:

  • Facebook users in Karpinski's study average grade point averages of 3.0-3.5. Non-Facebook users: 3.5.-4.0.
  • Facebook users averaged 1-5 hours a week studying; non-users, 11-15 hours per week.
  • Seventy-nine percent of those who said they used the social networking site said it did not impact their grades or study habits.
  • Eighty-five percent of undergrads in the survey said they had a Facebook page; 52 percent of the graduate students had accounts.
  • The group most likely to use Facebook: Those majoring in science, technology, math, engineering and business.

Facebook's Reaction

Facebook hasn't had a chance to review the study, so it doesn't have a specific response, according to spokesperson Kathleen Loughlin. However, the social networking site, which recently celebrated its 200 millionth member, does have its own academic study to rely on for refutation: a Univrersity of Melbourne survey that claimed Facebook helped office workers focus their energies and increased work productivity.

"It's equally convenient, meanwhile, to characterize TV and video game usage as time-consuming distractions," Loughlin told TechNewsWorld. "Yet there's academic research that touts the benefits of these activities and services like Facebook. Regardless, it's in the hands of students, in consultation with their parents, to define priorities and decide how to spend their time."

So what's on Karpinsky's mind? "I acknowledge the limitations of the study, and of course the media's not going to put that in there," she said. "The correlational aspects, the small size of the study -- I'm in a statistics program, I'm not oblivious to these things."

College students, Karpinski is aware, have found ways to avoid study and hurt their GPAs long before the Internet came along. "I completely agree with that. Conceivably, anything that takes away from study time may correlate with your GPA. I do put that in my explanation and in my paper. If it wasn't Facebook, it might be something else. Every generation of college students has its major distractors. When I was an undergrad, it was AOL."

Validating the Study

However, Karpinsky's study did turn up enough statistical findings to warrant further discussion and examination of the social networking phenomenon and its impact on young people. She knows other researchers in academia are doing just that. She chose Facebook -- not Twitter or MySpace -- because it originally targeted college-age students. She found 55 percent of those she surveyed access their pages several times a day, or at least once a day for a long period of time. "Just that fact, 55 percent -- that has to eat away at study time. But it's one of a multiple of factors, variables, influences, whatever you want to call them, in this intricate relationship."

Karpinsky is also aware of positive uses for Facebook for those students who want to use it as a tool for help with projects or as a resource. Many students send links for journal articles to each other, "and they have healthy academic conversations about topics. I know college students are using it that way. But I do think it was initially set up as a social network, and it will take some time to translate and be used as an educational tool."

Apparently, it's also taking some time for those who teach to discover what their students are doing with their spare time, much less their study time. Karpinsky sent a separate survey to faculty and staff and found that many didn't know what a Facebook was.

"They (faculty) need to be aware of what is popular and see what students are doing. They don't need to be spying on students, but they need to be aware of what the fads are, and starting a dialogue would be helpful because nobody's talking about it. I actually think professors and administrators should ride the wave and maybe consider harnessing Facebook's popularity to use as a learning tool.

"I'm not anti-Facebook. If it is popular, and it can be done, maybe we should use it for good."

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