In the debate over whether social media has a positive or negative effect on education, a new study to be published in Computers & Education has made a refreshing suggestion: Neither. It depends how you use it.
The survey of 2,368 university students looked at how 14 specific behaviors on Facebook – commenting on content, playing games, posting photos — correlated with student engagement on campus and time spent studying. It found that specific behaviors on Facebook were stronger predictors of these types of academic outcomes than measurements like time spent on Facebook.
Playing games on Facebook, for instance, correlated with low scores on a 19-question version of the National Survey of Student Engagement, which measures both participation in campus activities and in the classroom. Creating or RSVPing to Facebook events, on the other hand, correlated with high scores on the same assessment. And although the study found no relationship between time spent on Facebook in general and time spent studying, it did find a negative correlation between Facebook chatting and time spent studying.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that banning Facebook chat will solve a student’s studying challenges.
“We can’t tell the direction of that correlation,” explains Reynol Junco, the author of the study. “Do [some Facebook activities] cause more involvement or does the involvement cause more Facebook?”
More clear is that how Facebook is used, rather than how much, is important in understanding its relationship to education.
“There are still a lot of faculty who feel students using Facebook is bad,” Junco says. “And there are clearly data that show that yes, there are some ways in which it is not good…[But faculty] should be thinking about ways, if not using Facebook in our classes, of helping students use Facebook in some ways that may be more beneficial to their academic outcomes.”