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College Students and Facebook: What matters is how you use it

Last Updated: July 27, 2021

Luke Gilkerson
Luke Gilkerson

Luke Gilkerson has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MA in Religion. He is the author of Your Brain on Porn and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com

Is Facebook contributing to poor GPAs and drop-out rates? Is engaging in social media bad for your grades?

Studies about the use of social media tend to be two-dimensional. They might compare students who use Facebook to students who do not and try to draw conclusions about how Facebook in general impacts our lives. Or they might look at how much time students spend on Facebook and draw conclusions from that statistics alone.

But Reynol Junco’s study is different. Reynol, an Associate Professor at Lock Haven University, recently published a study in Computers & Education entitled “The relationship between frequency of Facebook use, participation in Facebook activities, and student engagement.” Rather than merely looking at the amount of time students spend on Facebook, Reynol wanted to know what they were doing in that time. How does the way one uses Facebook predict student engagement?

The results were interesting…

Why engagement matters

Student success at college is directly tied to how much energy they devote to the whole of their academic experience. This is what educators and social scientists call “engagement.” This, of course, includes things like time and attention devoted to study. But this also includes having close on-campus friendships, engaging in college-sponsored activities, close interactions with professors, and extracurriculular involvement.

In general, a higher level of engagement predicts a greater chance of success.

What are college students doing on Facebook?

Reynol surveyed 2,368 students at a primarily residential, four-year, public university in the Fall of 2010.

  • The average number of times students check Facebook: 5.75 times a day
  • The average amount of time students spend on Facebook: 1 hour, 41 minutes a day
  • The most popular Facebook activities include: leaving comments (88%), viewing photos (88%), checking in on what others are doing (85%), creating status updates (82%), and Facebook chat (77%).

What does the study tell us?

In general, specific Facebook activities were more strongly predictive of engagement than time spent on Facebook. To a parent or educator what this means is: More time on Facebook is not correlated to being a worse student, but certain Facebook activities can predict a student being less engaged.

  • For example, some Facebook activities positively predict involvement in campus activities: things like leaving comments, creating/RSVPing on events, or viewing photos. Reynol identifies these as “communicative activities”: they are a form of online engagement and therefore predict engagement in the offline world.
  • But on the other end of the spectrum, some Facebook activities negatively predict involvement in campus activities: things like playing games, checking up on friends, or posting photos. Reynol calls these “noncommunicative activities.”
  • No relationship was found between time spent on Facebook and time spent studying, but chatting on Facebook was a negative predictor.

In an interview Reynol commented, “[I]t’s important to keep in mind that Facebook use in and of itself is not detrimental to academic outcomes, and can indeed be used in ways that are advantageous to students. Using these results, faculty and administrators could develop educational practices that include using Facebook in ways that maximize both engagement and academic benefits.”