Does using a social media interface like Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat help students or hurt them? Does increasing use of social media cause a digital divide leaving the lower class even more disadvantaged or provide a new path for education? Research can be found showing results to be either way–whatever way you want it to be.
The first study occurred at Ohio State University where a doctoral student surveyed a total of 219 graduate and mostly junior and senior undergraduates on Facebook usage and study habits. Those who did use it reported about 1/3 less time spent studying than those who did not. They also had lower grades; although a .5 difference is grade point average doesn’t seem great, it is significant when one considered the inflated grades in post secondary education. However, less than 10% of the undergraduates interviewed did not use Facebook – the sample population was too small.
A later study performed by faculty at Northwestern University used a larger sample population, which included younger students still in high school. (There were 1000 undergraduates from age 14 to 22, a cross section sample of 835 students from age 14 to 22, and a representative panel of 415 students age 14 to 23.) The results were mixed, which means is some cases Facebook users had higher grades and in some case lower grades. However, students whose parents had a higher level of education were more likely to use Facebook while in high school. Because the link between parent education level and student achievement had already been established, it was really impossible to determine if Facebook use made any difference in grades.
A University of Minnesota study claimed that there was not a “digital divide” based on socio-economic status of students. Students from low income families understood the use social media has well as their more well off peers. However, the sample selected for this study were part of a program to help low income students have internet access after school. These students were observed using computer skills to navigate MySpace. Why MySpace and not Facebook which is much more widely used?
It turns out that those students with college educated parents typically use Facebook, while those that prefer MySpace typically are more likely to have parents with a high school degree or less. To a certain extent, race could also be predicted based on which social media was used. Even if we try to ignore the digital divide, a digital hierarchy remains.