The Impact of Social Media use on Academic Performance at one Urban University: A Pilot Study Sam Mozee, MPPA Mississippi Urban Research Center Abstract. The purpose of this study was to begin exploring the possible impact of social media use on the academic performance of students attending one urban university. The study’s primary goal is to identify key themes, trends, and/or perceptions that can be used as a foundation for more in-depth empirical research, and can be used to develop policy recommendations to deal with this growing phenomenon.
A qualitative research design was used, and three preliminary research questions were formed to guide this study: (1) How common is the use of social media (i.e., Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and LinkIn) among college students? (2) For those students who do utilize social networking sites, on average how much time do they spend on those sites collectively per day and/or per week? and (3) How does the academic performance of students compare between students who utilize social media sites and students who do not use social media sites? Findings from this study seem to confirm perceptions of high student usage of social media among college students; however, they also seem to contradict other research literature findings regarding intensity of usage and gender-usage inclinations. Introduction Recently, there has been considerable discussion regarding the frequent use of social media tools (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Xanga, Friendster) by high school and college students, and the possible effect of those tools on students’ academic performance (Connolly, 2011; Hargitai, & Hsieh, 2010; Karpinski, & Duberstein, 20009).
At the core of this debate is whether the growing use of social media by high school and/or college students actually improves or worsens a student’s academic performance. With the expected continued growth in the usage of these tools by students as early as the elementary school level (Anderson, & Rainie, 2012; Lenhart, 2009), this issue has wide spread implications particularly for the areas of education (e.g., the identification and use of compatible teaching methods, the design and implementation of complimentary curriculum decisions, and the design of non-classroom educational assignments); communications (e.g., the identification of appropriate channels to exchange educational information among individuals); and economics (e.g., the allocation of public financial resources towards educational and social services activities, and the creation of future business opportunities) (Chen, & Bryer, 2012; Anderson, & Rainie, 2012).
The purpose of this study is to begin exploring the possible impact of social media use on the academic performance of students attending one urban university. This issue is being investigated in order to: gauge the academic impact of social media use by university students; contribute to the growing body of knowledge regarding identified linkages between the use of social media and students’ academic performance; and to provide policy recommendations for university officials to consider regarding adapting to educational changes associated with the use of social media by college students. By initially taking an exploratory approach, the goal is to identify key themes, trends, and/or perceptions that can be used as a foundation for more in-depth empirical research. This study represents the first step in examining this issue for the purpose of developing research-grounded policy recommendations addressing this emerging issue.
Social Media and Its Users Social media has emerged as a term frequently used (and variously defined) to describe different types of communication platforms and electronic ways of interacting. This research will utilize the definition of social media developed by Bryer and Zavatarro as being “technologies that facilitate social interaction, make possible collaboration, and enable deliberations across stakeholders” (Bryer, & Zavattaro, 2011, p. 327; Chen, & Bryer, 2012, p. 88). Utilizing this definition, social media includes such tools as electronic blogs, audio/video tools (e.g., YouTube), Internet chat rooms, cellular and computer texting, and social networking sites.
While all of the previous tools can and do facilitate interaction between and among users to various degrees, this research is primarily concerned with the use of social media through social networking sites (SNSs). In terms of daily use of all social media collectively, one study found that those born between 1965-1979 (‘Generation X’) consumed approximately 13 hours of social media per day; those born between 1980-1989 (‘Net Generation’) consumed approximately 19 hours of social media per day; and those born between 1990-1999 (‘I Generation’) consumed approximately 20 hours of social media per day (Rosen, 2011).
These figures represent self-reported collective use of all forms of social media including television, cell phone usage, Internet usage, computer tablets, laptops, music iPads, texting, video games, and social networking sites. Just as the term ‘Social Media’ has obtained a fairly broad meaning, the term ‘social networking sites’ (SNSs) generally refers to Internet-based locations that allow individuals and groups to interact. Social network sites (SNSs) specifically refer to those Internet-based services that: promote online social interaction between two or more persons within a bounded system for the purposes of friendship, meeting other persons, and/or exchanging information; contains a functionality that lets users create public or semi-public personal profile pages that contain information of their own choosing; serves as a mechanism to communicate with other users; and contains mechanisms that allow users to search for other users according to some specific criteria (Zwart, Lindsay, Henderson, & Phillips, 2011; EU, 2009; Boyd, & Ellison, 2007).
Sites such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter are good examples of SNSs that meet the previously stated criteria. Internet use overall, and the use of social networking sites in particular, have grown significantly since 2000 with some estimates of nearly 78% of American adults using the Internet regularly; 46% of American adults 18 and older using social networking sites; and 65% of teens age 12 to 17 using online social networks (Pew, 2009). In terms of membership and daily usage, more recent estimates show Facebook as having over 750 million users worldwide; LinkedIn over 100 million members; Twitter having over 177 million tweets per day; and YouTube having over 3 billion views each day (Chen, & Bryer, 2012).
The use of social networking sites has been repeatedly found to be the highest among those between the ages of 18-29 (Rainie, 2011); while the fastest growing segment utilizing SNSs since 2008 has been among those age 35 and older (Hampton, Sessions-Goulet, Rainie, & Purcell, 2011, p. 8). Approximately 61% of teens age 12-17 utilize SNSs to send messages to their friends on a regular basis (Lenhart, 2009). Overall, it has been found that women more than men tend to utilize social networking sites to communicate and exchange information (Hampton, SessionsGoulet, Rainie, & Purcell, 2011). In terms of overall popularity regarding usage, one recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that Facebook is the most used (92%), followed by MySpace (29%), then LinkedIn (18%), Twitter (13%), and other SNSs (10%) (Hampton, SessionsGoulet, Rainie, & Purcell, 2011).
As related to this exploratory study, the previous statistics indicate that social media tend to have the highest usage rate among traditionally-aged college students (that is, those under 30 years old). For younger cohort groups below the college level, their usage rate tends to be the highest. At issue is whether this usage among college students is having a positive, negative, or neutral effect on the academic performance of these students. Social Media and Academic Performance The issue of whether social media helps or hurts a student’s academic performance is often couched in larger issues identified with the overall use of social media (e.g., its psychological effects; privacy and safety concerns; individual self-discipline and self-regulation concerns; human adaptability concerns) (Zwart, Lindsay, Henderson, & Phillips, 2011; Anderson, & Rainie, 2012; Rosen, 2011; Connolly, 2011).
In general, benefits typically associated with the use of social media have included: encouraging greater social interaction via electronic mediums; providing greater access to information and information sources; encouraging creativity among and between individuals and groups; creating a sense of belonging among users of common social media tools; providing more choices to promote engagement among different individuals and groups; reducing barriers to group interaction and communications such as distance and social/economic status; and increasing the technological competency levels of frequent users of social media (Connolly, 2011; Zwart, Lindsay, Henderson, & Phillips, 2011; Rosen, 2011).
Potential risks or drawbacks identified with the use of social media include risks of psychological disorders and health problems such as anxiety, depression, poor eating habits, and lack of physical exercise; increasingly short attention spans and subverted higher-order reasoning skills such as concentration, persistence, and analytical reasoning among frequent users of social media; a tendency to overestimate one’s ability to multi-task and manage projects; and technology being seen as a substitute for the analytical reasoning process (Anderson, & Rainie, 2012; Rosen, 2011; Connolly, 2011; Zwart, Lindsay, Henderson, & Phillips, 2011). Collectively, these benefits and risks all play a role in a student’s educational process to various degrees and at various times. Just as there are conflicting benefits and risks associated with the use of social media, there are also contradictory findings regarding its impact on students’ academic performance.
Some researchers studying the impact of social media use (in particularly the use of SNSs) on college students’ academic performance found a negative effect; that is, higher usage typically leading to lower academic performance as measured by grades (Wang, Chen, & Liang, 2011; Stollak, Vandenberg, Burklund, & Weiss, 2011; Rouis, Limayem, & Salehi-Sangari, 2011; Karpinski, & Duberstein, 2009; Canales, Wilbanks, & Yeoman, 2009). Other researchers studying this same issue found either no-to-little relationship between the use of social media and student academic performance (Ahmed & Qazi, 2011) (Hargittai & Hsieh, 2010), or actually an increase in student academic performance (Pasek & Hargittai, 2009) (Junco, Heibergert, & Loken, 2011) (Rizzuto, LeDoux, & Hatala, 2009).
While it is not uncommon to find studies with contradictory findings, what is particularly relevant among the studies reviewed is the common finding of other mediating factors that must be considered before any definitive conclusions can be reached regarding the impact on academic performance. Examples of these mediating factors include the frequency and intensity of social media usage; the personality type of the social media user (e.g., extroverted, introverted); the socio-economic and cultural background of the user; the ability of the user to “self-regulate” their behavior in terms of time spent on- and off-line; the differences among the SNSs in terms of their content, purpose, and structure; and the academic ability of the social media user. In summarizing the research literature reviewed, all these factors dictate to various degrees the level of social media usage, and the academic performance of those using social media.
These findings, coupled with the earlier statistics indicating a rapidly growing use of social media (especially among those under 18 years old), represent a significant trend that is impacting educational systems around the world. The current study’s purpose was to investigate the extent to which social media impacts college students’ academic performance. The importance of this issue is connected to research identifying higher education as being a key component to a country remaining globally competitive, and that declining academic performance can have long-term consequences for society and the individual in terms of overall quality of life (Down, 2009) (Phusavat, Ketsarpong, Ooi, & Shyu, 2012). Method This research study utilized a qualitative design that incorporated the focus group and survey research methods.
The goal was to use these methods as starting points for identifying key themes and perceptions upon which to build future research. Three preliminary research questions were formed to guide this study: (1) How common is the use of social media (i.e., specifically the use of such social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and LinkIn) among college students? (2) For those students who utilize social networking sites, on average how much time do they spend on those sites collectively per day and/or per week? and (3) How does the academic performance of students compare between those students who utilize social media sites and those students who do not? The initial population for the focus group was 18 college students participating in the Jackson State University’s Ronald E. McNair Scholars program, and was selected due to the convenience and availability of the students.
Participation in that program is limited to undergraduate students from disadvantaged backgrounds that have demonstrated strong academic potential, with the ultimate program goal of increasing the attainment of doctoral degrees by students from under-represented segments of society (USDOE, Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, 2012). It must be noted that one additional student arrived too late to participate in the focus group discussions, but did participate in the survey segment of this research project; therefore, a total of 19 students were available to participate in the research exercises.
The focus group was facilitated utilizing a semistructured interview guide focusing on students’ perceptions of social media and its impact on academic performance. The students were also administered a nine question survey that addressed such areas as student gender, race, college classification, types of social media utilized, average time spent per day and per week on selected social media site(s), SMSs, and the student’s academic grade-point average. The original 18 students, plus one student arriving later during the research activity, completed the survey instrument. Focus group responses were manually sorted and grouped according to common/similar responses to questions asked of the full group.
Survey responses were tabulated and analyzed utilizing the SPSS version 18 statistical software. Descriptive statistics were compiled along with crosstabulations of selected variables. The major limitations of this study included its use of a non-randomized, un-representative sample of the student population; and students in the focus group having above average academic grade-point averages as a requirement to participate in the McNair Scholar’s program; and having a small sample size (N=19) of students to complete the survey instrument.
Findings Summary of Focus Group Deliberations. The facilitators began the discussion by asking for a show-ofhands of those students who use social media. All of the students participating in the focus group indicated they typically used some form of social media daily. However, there was a wide range among the students in terms of frequency and intensity of use. After getting a sense of the usage level among focus group members, a semi-structured interview guide was used to stimulate discussion and elicit responses from participants.
Table 1 provides a summary of the focus group responses: Table 1. Summary of Focus Group Responses Question # 1 Research Questions What do you think about the use of social media by college students in general? Common Responses It does affect the mindset of some students both positively and negatively; it encourages social interaction among students (probably more among Freshman and Sophomores than Juniors and Seniors); it can help a student get assistance with school-related projects; it can be addictive, distracting, hurt with your focus; it is a good source for drama and entertainment; it is being used in ways not originally intended (e.g., for basic business networking); and it can help people with insecurities make friends and increase their self-esteem;
It depends upon the person in terms of whether that person can focus or not and how they use it; it is more powerful than people realize and can affect a person’s study habits; it takes away study time; it can be addictive; and it can make people lazy; Nothing, students who want to use social media will find a way; have a campus forum discussing the issue of how social media can affect academic performance; establish a telephone hotline for those people who have a problem; limit the number of hours (e.g., by going through the phone company) a person can be on Facebook; and let those persons experience failure as a way to overcome their problem.