A recent study suggests that extensive time on social media platforms like Facebook has the potential to lower GPAs. With social networks in constant evolution, how much can we rely on these kinds of studies?
The media often vilifies social networking sites as "distracting", "mind-numbing" or "a waste of time".
There are constant attempts to try and analyse correlations between social network usage and the impact it may have on our lives - from how it stands in relation to social relationships or how it may affect our academic studies.
A recent study conducted by Reynol Junco, associate professor at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania, suggests that there is a correlation between the amount of time a student spends on Facebook and their academic performance.
The study analysed the link between Facebook use and academic performance - and found that students' GPAs showed a 0.12 point decrease for every 93 minutes above the average 106 minutes of daily Facebook use.
Conducting a survey of 1,839 college students, Junco focused on the frequency of Facebook use, participation in Facebook activities, time spent preparing for class and grade point averages. The students responded to an online survey and the school provided their GPA scores directly.
92 percent of those students who completed the survey reported using Facebook with an average daily use of 106 minutes each. The study found that the average student visits the social networking site 6 times per day; lingering for 26 minutes per session. Those who visited over the 'average' 106 minutes were linked to lower GPA scores.
This may show that prolonged use of the social networking giant may be linked to lowering academic performance - if only by a small margin.
"You have to spend an inordinate amount of time on Facebook for it to be related to GPA in a way that is shocking." Junco states.
Interestingly, no correlation was found between Facebook use and declines in the amount of time spent studying - perhaps suggesting that if Facebook didn't exist, we would simply find another means to procrastinate.
Other studies, albeit smaller, have also considered the relationship. Problematically, the few studies that have been conducted on social networking sites have conflicted findings. Some find positive correlation between academic performance and specific Facebook or Twitter activities; others find negative results in general.
The researchers found that users with paid jobs were less likely to spend the same amount of time on Facebook as those without; and students who were more involved in extracurricular activities generally admitted to higher daily Facebook usage.
Karpinski and Duberstrain found a tentative link between extensive Facebook use and lowered GPA in the same manner as Junco.
However, in retaliation to this research, Pasek looked at a sample of students from Chicago. The responses he received from a paper questionnaire suggested there was no negative relationship between Facebook use and academic performance; users were no more or less likely to get good grades than non-users. Pasek also found Facebook use was slightly more common in individuals with higher grades.
Pasek states: "Facebook simply does not seem to have a generalizable impact on grades."
Finally, a study conducted by Junco, Heiberger and Loken this year examined the prevalence of Twitter use and the affect this had on 'student engagement' and grades.
They did find that Twitter allowed students to form study groups at short notice - and that questions generated via Tweets instead of a typical seminar setting were more varied and of different types as students felt 'more comfortable' communicating across a digital platform than in a classroom.
Junco found that the use of social media encouraged a 'culture of engagement' between students, and also states that:
'Encouraging the use of Twitter for educationally relevant purposes has a positive effect on grades.'
Facebook only appeared in 2004, and Twitter in 2006 - but they are already an ingrained aspect of the iGenerations' lives. It's uncertain what may happen in the next few years - for example, the Facebook Timeline may have a negative impact on the amount of users or time spent on the social networking site.
A problem with studying social networking is that there is yet to be research that can prove strong causal links between social network use and changes in academic performance.
Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are in constant evolution - by the time a study has been completed, the original parameters may have changed, such as the number of global users.
Other factors can come into play; students who use Facebook more frequently may originally be part of a lower GPA group, students that are willing to fill out online surveys do not necessarily give a non-biased perspective of actual college Facebook use (perhaps they are the more computer savvy types, and were already on Facebook when the email appeared!), and demographics may also influence the results.
In short, it is difficult to provide any correlation between academic performance and social network usage.