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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Students who use social media get higher grades

A few studies have begun to research the positive affects of students using social media. For example...
From Mashable:
Four sections (70 students) were given assignments and discussions that incorporated Twitter, such as tweeting about their experiences on a job shadow day or commenting on class readings. Three sections (55 students) did the same assignments and had access to the same information, but didn’t use Twitter.

In addition to showing more than twice the improvement in engagement than the control group, the students who used Twitter also achieved on average a .5 point increase in their overall GPA for the semester.

My original thoughts: Awesome-Positive correlation (as social media use goes up, grades go up). After a more critical glance, I noticed that the sample size was a bit small. Further, the study does not explicitly describe the terms it was trying to study, which minimizes the possibility that someone could accurately replicate the study. As if to answer the call, the NSSE came along with not only a larger sample size, but also a 12 month long survey-longitudinal survey
NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement) defines its terms as:
Student engagement represents two critical features of collegiate quality. The first is the amount of time and effort students put into their studies and other educationally purposeful activities. The second is how the institution deploys its resources and organizes the curriculum and other learning opportunities to get students to participate in activities that decades of research studies show are linked to student learning.

A few example items from the survey (Students were to answer on a likert scale ranging from "very often" to "never"): How often have you...

a. Memorizing facts, ideas, or
methods from your courses and readings so you can repeat them
in pretty much the same form
b. Analyzing the basic elements of an idea, experience, or theory, such as examining a particular case or situation in depth and
considering its components
c. Synthesizing and organizing ideas, information, or experiences into new, more complex interpretations and relationships
d. Making judgments about the value of information, arguments, or methods, such as examining how others gathered and
interpreted data and assessing the soundness of their conclusions
e. Applying theories or concepts to practical problems or in new situations

So the survey is measuring "student engagement" by the amount of time spent memorizing? As a good teacher knows, amount of time memorizing is not correlated to the degree to which a student is engaged. "Analyzing" measures the student's critical thinking skills, which research has shown increases student self-efficacy. Now we see a positive relationship: As critical thinking skills increase, self-efficacy increases...but where does student MENTAL engagement (not time engagement) come in? In other words, I think the definition of "engagement" is flawed, and thus the found correlations found are invalid. The study is in fact finding studying the correlation between student's time spent, which is not the same as engagement.

A few things have to be determined before an accurate picture can be painted of students using social media (I see positive effects in my classroom-I want to see this replicated by social science!) The most important of which is undoubted causality (as in, increase in engagement is caused by self-efficacy and not explained by another variable in that study/another variable which was not accounted for in that study)

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