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Will Facebook hurt your grades?

By Emily Chung, CBCNews.ca

In a recent study, U.S. college students who use Facebook had significantly lower grades than people who didn't use the social networking site.

Typically, Facebook users had GPAs between 3.0 and 3.5 – a full half point below students who did not use Facebook, reported the study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University and Ohio Dominican University. In addition, Facebook users also only studied one to five hours per week, compared to 11 to 15 hours per week for non-users.

The results were to be presented by co-author Aryn Karpinski, who is completing her doctorate in education, at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association on Thursday. But days earlier, they had found their way into a barrage of headlines around the world.

Did the study deserve all the excitement?

Sure, the results were kind of shocking and could have huge implications – after all, Facebook reports that it has more than 200 million active users around the world, about a third of whom are college students.

On the other hand, only 148 of those users were surveyed in the study. That's less than 0.0001 per cent of Facebook users.

And the study included just 71 students who didn't use Facebook.

The authors said the study was just a "small, exploratory" pilot study, but didn't indicate in any of their press releases what their estimated margin of error might be. Chances are, it was big.

In a study this small, individual variations and small groupings of people can cause big swings in the numbers. Think of polling results that come in during election. At a single poll when counting begins, it may look like the Green Party is winning. But once more and more polls are counted, it becomes clear that there will be no political seismic shift – your Conservative MP is coming back after all.

In the case of this study, all the students who participated went to Ohio State University, so it's hard to know whether the results can be generalized.

About half were graduate students and the other half were undergraduates. The study didn't indicate any breakdown of what they were studying, but did say science, technology, engineering, math and business majors, and younger, full-time students were more likely to use Facebook than students majoring in humanities and social sciences and older, part-time students. That could make a difference in itself. I don't know about you, but the class average in my first year calculus class was a few letters further down in the alphabet than it was in my graduate journalism classes (mind you – my sample size there was pretty darn small!).

The researchers themselves also admit that even though there was clearly a relationship between grades and Facebook use in their study, there wasn't any way to establish any cause and effect.

Overall, does this mean the results of the new study aren't valid?

No … but maybe it's worthwhile to wait for a study with a few thousand more students before getting too worked up.

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Comments

R. W. Watkins

This story truly begs a question: Why would anyone past the age of 11 or 12 be distracted from academia by something as trite, pointless, childish and just plain silly as the Facebook site in the first place? Now there's a sociological study that sorely needs to be undertaken!

Posted April 15, 2009 10:11 AM

Kelvin

As a university student myself, I can say that facebook has no correlation to grades. You could argue that facebook is a distraction from studying (as pointed out by the article)but this does not distinguish facebook from other sources of academic distractions.

I think society has to understand that university education is not right for everyone and that a college education is just as good for people who doesn't want to be pressured to study subjects they don't care about and receive a degree that they don't want.

Posted April 15, 2009 11:19 AM

L. Ledger

I think this study is one that could be of great academic benefit... to a university-level statistics course looking at examples of poor experimental design!

Facebook may be a new arrival in the scheme of things, but in my own anecdotal experiences, a student looking to procrastinate will find a way, be it social networking on a computer or in a pub.

It would be interesting to see this study repeated with proper controls and sample sizing, though. I'd also be interested in seeing whether interactive technology in general is a distraction.

Posted April 15, 2009 12:43 PM

Brandon

Ottawa

Ummmmm, a response to an earlier post. As a student, my life is not entirely based in "acadamia" (although it seems like it sometimes). It's nice to take a break from endless hours of studying every now and then to talk to friends or play some "silly" games. I don't know if you've seen the price of stamps or phone plans lately, but Facebook is a fast, cheap way for me to communicate with people who don't live near me. I think some people need to get their heads out of the Dark Ages and realize the benefits of technology. Grades are not everything.

Posted April 15, 2009 12:55 PM

Z. C. Lampert

Not to be rude brandon but when you are in university grades are everything if you fail then you dont get what you were going for and end up slinging fries for a living. Facebook may be a problem for some people but it makes for a good break every hour or so of hard work.

Posted April 16, 2009 12:27 PM

Catherine

London

I think what we need to realize here is that yes this is a perfect example of a poorly planned study and yes, no matter what happens everyone will find a way to slack off. But it also brings up a few interesting points: 1 - are students spending not enough time on their book education or are they actually learning in other ways?. 2 - is it really Facebook or are there other problems. 3 - is it about time that we face the fact that the younger generation is capable of a larger degree of multi-tasking and possibly incapable of avoiding it?

Posted April 17, 2009 10:34 AM

Alex

BC

Wow, what a completely useless study. It's called selection bias. Take two students, one cares about school - the other does not. Which one is more likely to use facebook? This is what the study is capturing. Guess what, if you do the same study but instead of facebook use you look at who uses a tutor you will find that the grades of people who use a tutor are much lower (probably lower than those who use facebook). Should we ban tutoring?? Or maybe education PhD's should learn how to properly design studies.

Posted April 20, 2009 03:35 PM

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