Facebook and education: is Facebook driving campus engagement or driving students away?
A recent study published in Computers and Education attempt to draw correlations between student engagement and how much time students spend on Facebook.
Not surprisingly, the conclusion was "it depends." (Shel Holtz would grin.)
Facebook, like any social media site, is a tool. Its use is more likely to reflect students' attitudes towards studying and engagement than direct them. Mashable reported on the survey's findings (emphasis mine):
Playing games on Facebook, for instance, correlated with low scores on a 19-question version of the National Survey of Student Engagement, which measures both participation in campus activities and in the classroom. Creating or RSVPing to Facebook events, on the other hand, correlated with high scores on the same assessment. And although the study found no relationship between time spent on Facebook in general and time spent studying, it did find a negative correlation between Facebook chatting and time spent studying.
This survey is very telling, both about social media behavior and about how it reflects different students' attitude toward social media. Students who kill time playing games and chatting use the tool to avoid studying and engagement in IRL activities. However, students who use the tool to connect with friends and find out about events are using the tool to further engagement. Notice that the differentiating factor is not the tool but they way students choose to use it.
An apt comparison is television. Remember when TV first came around, and it was the evil Boob Tube? Well, sure, anyone can use TV to put off studying, procrastinate on a project or generally waste time. And we have all done that at some point. However, in my dormitory, we gathered around the TV once a week to communally watch a popular drama. (I won't say which one, as I will severly age myself by doing so!) It was a time to socialize, eat Oreos and catch up on the activities of that social circle of friends.
Likewise, Facebook can be used to avoid campus engagement or to enhance it. It depends on the student using the tool, and the way Facebook is wielded will reflect that student's attitude and level of desire for campus engagement.
A case in point: I use Facebook not only to showcase my own personal brand, but also to connect with the local social media community and with friends who share my interests. Earlier this year, I created a closed Facebook group "Seattle Salsa" for coordinating salsa outings with my fellow salsa-loving friends. Members post when and where they are going to go dancing, and we gather as our schedules allow. Last week, my fellow Facebook salsa friend Felix announced he was going outdoor salsa dancing at Occidental Park downtown, and I, along with a few other friends, used the Facebook group to coordinate an outing. It was a wonderful time, dancing in the open air! I took this short video of a special performance that afternoon (no, not me dancing):
The point is that, while I could have spent a workday afternoon playing Farmville, putting off my substantial workload and avoiding actual engagement, I didn't. That's not what motivates me to use Facebook; making real connections with real people is. The user determines whether the tool facilitates engagement or not.
The conclusion from the Mashable post: "More clear is that how Facebook is used, rather than how much, is important in understanding its relationship to education." And to marketing, local business and not-for-profits, I would add.