A new research study finds that widespread use of media among freshman college students may compromise academic performance.
The study is one of the first to explore mechanisms of media effects on academic outcomes.
Investigators determined that use of media — from texting to chatting on cell phones to posting status updates on Facebook — may lower grades for freshman female students.
Given the widespread acceptance of social media, researchers recommend for professors to integrate social media into their classrooms and to provide counseling on the need for students to take breaks from media immersion.
Researchers determined that freshmen women spend nearly half their day — 12 hours — engaged in some form of media use, particularly texting, music, the Internet and social networking.
Investigators discovered that media use was generally associated with lower grade point averages (GPAs) and other negative academic outcomes.
However, there were two exceptions as newspaper reading and listening to music were actually linked to a positive academic performance.
The research findings, reported online by the journal Emerging Adulthood, offer new insights into media use in early adulthood.
Experts say that college is a time when many young people are living independently for the first time and have significant freedom from parental monitoring.
“Most research on media use and academics has focused on adolescents, rather than new college students, or has only examined a few forms of media.
“So we were curious about the impact of a wider range of media, including activities like social networking and texting that have only become popular in recent years,” said lead author Jennifer L. Walsh, Ph.D.
“We also wanted to know how media use related to later school performance, since there aren’t many longitudinal studies looking at media use and academics.”
Walsh and colleagues surveyed 483 first-year college women at a northeast university at the start of their freshmen year.
Students were asked about their use of 11 forms of media (television, movies, music, surfing the Internet, social networking, talking on a cell phone, texting, magazines, newspapers, non-school-related books and video games).
Investigators tallied student use of media on weekdays and weekends during the previous week.
These findings were correlated to student GPA and survey reports on academic confidence, behaviors and problems.
The study yielded some interesting findings, Walsh said.
In addition to data suggesting that college women use nearly 12 hours of media per day, researchers found that cell phones, social networking, movie/television viewing and magazine reading were most negatively associated with later academic outcomes, after accounting for their academic performance.
But exactly how are media use and academic performance linked?
“We found women who spend more time using some forms of media report fewer academic behaviors, such as completing homework and attending class, lower academic confidence and more problems affecting their school work, like lack of sleep and substance use,” said Walsh.
Researchers also believe the findings demonstrate the central role of social media in the lives of college students, and suggest these forms of media are used more on campus than off.
“Given the popularity of social networking and mobile technology, it seems unlikely that educators will be able to reduce students’ use of these media forms,” said Walsh.
“Instead, professors might aim to integrate social media into their classrooms to remind students of assignments, refer them to resources and connect them with their classmates.”
Academic counselors might also consider assessing college students’ media use and encouraging them to take breaks from media, particularly while in class, studying or completing assignments, the researchers also noted.