I am curious about the link between students’ Facebook usage and GPA. I could only find one study on the subject. Aryn Karpinski, a doctoral student in the education department at Ohio State University, conducted a survey of 219 undergraduate and graduate students. Her study is rather limited and methodologically flawed (she only surveys students at Ohio State University). Nonetheless, I suspect that she is on to something.
Karpinski finds no correlation between Facebook usage and education status (undergraduate or graduate). However, she finds a significant correlation between Facebook usage and GPA. Nonusers (undergraduate and graduate students) study 11 to 15 hours per week and have GPAs between 3.5 and 4.0, compared to users who study only 1 to 5 hours per week and have GPAs between 3.0 and 3.5 range (a full grade point lower). Karpinski says, “This is an interesting finding because graduate GPAs rarely are that low.”
With such a limited survey, we cannot say whether Karpinsky’s findings imply causation. From my own experiences on Facebook and in the classroom (sometimes simultaneous), this is my theory of the breakdown of students:
Facebook Nonusers/Limited Users:
The students who resist Facebook exist at opposite societal extremes. Group A: These are students who are so engrossed in their social lives on campus that they have little time and energy to devote to studying or maintaining their long distance, virtual relationships. These are your partiers. Group B: At the other extreme are students who devote so much energy to academic and intellectual pursuits that they have little time or energy for socializing, virtually or on campus. These are your geeks. Karpinski’s study seems to suggest that the geeks outweigh the partiers.
Most college students belong to this massive group of Facebook users. Karpinski’s study only compares Facebook users to nonusers, and says nothing about the quantity of usage. I suspect that there is an inverse relationship between average time spent on Facebook and GPA. Furthermore, I think that this inverse relationship is a mixed bag of correlation and causation. In other words, sometimes it is true that if students are not Facebooking they would avoid studying by some other means. However, often Facebooking causes students to study marginally less than they would otherwise.
It would be great if someone did a more comprehensive study so that we could explore these open-ended questions. For now, I invite my readers to share their thoughts and hypotheses.