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Dueling studies: do Facebook and Twitter help or hurt students?

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In a strong sign that nobody knows what they’re talking about, two studies have come up with near opposite conclusions on the helpfulness/hurtfulness of Twitter and Facebook in the academic world. One study tested the effectiveness of social media on undergraduate students, while the other asked teachers how social media was affecting students.

Tweeting can improve your GPA?

Our positive study followed a group of 125 students taking a pre-health class at a medium-sized public college, according to a report in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. 70 of the students regularly used Twitter to discuss academic material together and with instructors while the remaining 55 did not. The students who used Twitter were quantifiably more engaged in the material and class than those who did not. Tweeters also posted higher grades than those who did not use social media. At the peak of the semester-long study, 612 tweets were exchanged between students in a single week.

However, this is a specific experiment set up where the teacher and students were encouraged to use social media to communicate with one another on a regular basis. This type of use is not common in the classroom. Students tweeting outside of the confines of this study may not show any improvement at all.

Teachers blame social sites for poor grades

In another small study, 500 British teachers were asked about how technology is affecting students, reports The Telegraph. 70 percent of them believed students are becoming more and more obsessed with social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. 50 percent believed the obsession is affecting children’s ability to concentrate in class. The study concludes that the kids with the worst grades are spending the most time social networking.

The angry teachers weren’t done. 73 percent thought parents should better limit how much time children spend online and 58 percent believed mobile phones and computers have caused a decline in spelling. 54 percent said kids don’t write them sentences so good because they type on keyboards, like, all the time.

Of course, this study is based solely on the opinions of teachers. There is no scientific evidence that the teacher claims are true. Ten years ago, they might have made similar claims about children using AIM or other Instant Messaging programs. It is doubtful that any of these teachers tried to use the technology to reach out to students.

Good or bad?

It would take a much larger and more comprehensive study to know the full impact of social networking on student grades. Neither of these studies come close. Both are riddled with holes. What we have learned: a lot of people are interested in the impact of social networking on students and the academic world.

What do you think? Can Twitter or Facebook help students taking a class, or are they mostly a distraction.