Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Social Media Networks are Distracting Students

                It is amazing how the Internet is changing people's lives. People are able to quickly do research and gather data on the web, navigate through websites flawlessly, and most people are able to find anything on the Internet in ten seconds flat thanks to search engines such as Google. The Internet has provided our world with a different means of communication and it is accessible to anyone at any time at a click of a mouse. There are social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, World of Warcraft, Second Life, LinkedIn, Flickr and so on. There are approximately 845 million users on Facebook, 462 Twitter users, 135 million users on LinkedIn, and 50 million users on Flickr. These numbers gives us an idea of just how many people around the world are involved in social media. From the numbers mentioned it is clear to see that the most popular social media network with over 845 million users is Facebook, most of whose users are students. This research blog will speak to how social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter are a distraction for students causing them to do poorly in their education. It will also outline how the students' addiction to the social media networks can have a negative impact. Lastly, this blog will speak to what educational institutes such as Universities are doing to handle the distraction that social media networks are having on their students.  
                Social media is available to anyone at any time. Students are religiously connecting themselves to it and are continuously signing online to check their status.  Even while in class, students are on their laptops or smartphone and spend the majority of their time checking their 'home page' and only partially listening to the lecture their teachers. The partial attention students are giving their teachers is not sufficient for getting good grades. In the Time Magazine | U.S. Edition an article called Wired for Distraction: Kids and Social Media, written by Dalton Conley, states that students and people who are heavily involved in social media have "continuous partial attention", which is quoting Linda Stone, a Microsoft Executive. Meaning, their ability to pay attention to one person or thing is nearly impossible; they will always be doing something else.
                Social media networking takes a lot of one's time. With all the new information that people are absorbing, social networks are taking people's time and life away and everything around that person is ticking by without the person knowing it. Usually people have the right intention of 'checking' their Facebook or Twitter for a certain amount of time. They usually say 'give me 5 minutes to check my Facebook'. The 5 minutes turns into 20 minutes and that turns into 40. People are so focused on checking social media that they are wasting their life sitting at computer or looking down at a screen, letting their lives stop just so they can scroll through other peoples' lives.
                In 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that children ages 8 to 18 spend approximately 7 or more hours using social media networks and entertainment per day; and when you add text messaging the hours soar up to 11 hours each day.  "People are paying more and more attention to the environmental stimuli at the expense of focus,” says Anthony Wagner, a Stanford University Study's co-writer.
                Social media networks are accessible to anyone who has a device like a laptop or Smartphone, which has the capability to connect to the Internet. Thanks to social norms, it is almost expected to see with such devices and therefore most people are connected to a social media network. The Internet, which is wireless and free at postsecondary institutions provide students with the opportunity to become distracted from their lectures. Facebook is a prime example of a social media network that has a serious effect on students' lives and education. Some effects are seen to be negative and some can be seen as positive.
                The constant distraction that the social networks have affects how one learns and how their brain absorbs new information. Students who are surfing through their social media networks while they are listening to their teachers' lectures are not using the full potential power of their brains' learning centre. Smith (2011) said that once an hour 9 out of 10 British students are distracted by Facebook and Twitter. This type of compulsive behaviour can almost be deemed as an addiction. Classes in higher education are usually three hours long, subtract twenty to thirty minutes per hour for social media checking, and if one does the math you have a student who is only paying attention 90 minutes out of the 180 minutes there are in one lecture; multiply that by six or seven courses and by now you should get where this blog is going. University and college students go through demanding courses and do many assignments, which require the complete focus of the student. However, students are not realizing the harm they are doing when they are taking thirty minutes to check their social media network accounts when they are suppose to be working on a paper.
                There are many ways people are able to learn, i.e. typing up notes, recording lectures, etc., however there are in fact only two ways that a brain can absorb information. According to the University of California, Los Angeles there are two types of learning sections in the brain. The 'focused learners' are those who pay full attention in class and are not distracted by their laptops and other devices; they use the hippocampus region of their brain. This area is the heart of the memory and learning part of the brain. These students are able to think in high level situations and usual end up with higher paying jobs than those categorized as 'multitaskers' (Conley, 2011). 'Multitaskers' are those who are doing two to three things at once and are not solely focusing on one task alone. These students are using the area of the brain called the striatum. This section or manner of learning is not a bad learning approach; nevertheless, this area of the brain is for learning in a habit or pattern manner. This kind of knowledge is usually only good for those who want to work on an assembly line (Conley, 2011).  Students graduating with degrees are usually aiming for high paying jobs and to do this, they need to shut down their phones and laptops and start paying attention in their classes.
                A startling fact is just how dependent and almost fixated students are when it comes to having the Internet. A few studies have been done where you would think a student would obviously choose one over the other, but in the end it’s having the Internet that comes before all. One research study that was done by the CEO of Cisco, Phil Smith had an astonishing result where students chose having the Internet over having a car. Another fact from Smith's (2011) research is 1 in 3 college students consider the Internet to be just as fundamental as air, water, shelter, and food are. These thoughts are very astonishing and very irrepressible. Many of these students would actually find the Internet to be more important than dating or even going out with friends. Last fact from Smith's (2011) research was 1 of 4 students in the study thought that updating their Facebook status was more important than partying, music, or seeing friends. It is amazing how a social media network can alter lives completely that we become desensitized by flesh and blood contact and prefer online contact instead.
                The Internet is a network that allows for anyone to have the ability to become a different persona. The Internet is an easy way for people to escape their reality and create an altered image of themselves online. The Internet provides an escape that becomes increasingly distracting the more time one puts into it. Students are finding that they use social media as a network of procrastination or a place to escape to especially when they are needed to do an assignment or homework of any kind. A study done by the Ohio State University has demonstrated that students who utilize Facebook spend less time studying and typically have lower grades than those students who do not use these popular social media sites (Cowler-Amoss, 2012). It is all about the student balancing the time they are on the Internet and its entertainment and a students' homework habits.
                Some schools have had enough of students abusing social media networks while on campus, one in particular has banned social media networks from a few of their library computers. The University of Colorado had implemented a system on their library computers on March 9th 2012 where twenty two of the university's library computers have a permanent social media block to Facebook, Twitter, etc (Fitz, 2012). The reason for the new system is students who needed to do research on computers had to wait twenty to thirty minutes for a free computer. They had noticed that those who had a computer were using it to check their Facebook or look up 'tweets' on Twitter. This had aggravated many students and so the school had agreed to have designated computers which still had Internet but were social media free; meaning no access to Facebook or Flickr. An assistant professor at the university, Rory Lewis agrees with this compromise and believes that libraries at schools around the nation will start offering these 'social-media-less' computers in the future.
                At another educational institute, the University of Ottawa, Professor Marcel Turcott is very frustrated with the students in his class. He believes that his students are missing out in important opportunities and lectures and thinks the "laptop ban" that the University is thinking of putting into place will be in the best interest of the students. In the video posted by CTV Ottawa, reporter Catherine Lathem records clips of students who are admitting to misusing their laptops in class, however they believe that their laptop helps them with learning (Lathem, 2012). Does that mean that they need access to social media websites? Professor Turcott wants to do a study with his students: one day laptops will be forbidden to be used in class and at the end of the lecture a surprise quiz will be handed out and Turcott strongly believes that his students would perform better than they would of if they had their laptops in front of them.
                One social media network in particular has a strong grasp on the world today, particularly on students. With 845 million users, Facebook is starting to have negative impacts on student grades and their educational performances. It is quite clear that many students are not able to cognitively control their absorption of Facebook and it is affecting their personality and studying habits. Facebook has an effect that is harmful to the productivity of students and has been proven to decrease the students' academic performance and their grades. Social media is a very hard to ignore since there are constant distractions and new information been fed into the system, i.e. pictures being posted and status updates of friends. Many students are admitting that social media networks are the cause to their grades suffering (Weeks, 2011).   In Weeks' video from CBC News | British Columbia, a professor is noticing that his students are dropping out of courses because they simply cannot handle or balance their technology use.
                Students will always have the choice of how well they do in school, they are in control of their own grades, what they want to learn, and what they want to retain in their brains.  Social media networks are continuously feeding new news throughout the day. Students are choosing to take the time and to read through them and most are able to remember what they had read. An idea to help students be more involved with their education is by connecting their learning material with social media networks. Perhaps teachers should think of creating a Facebook page for their courses and students will have updates from their classes right on the Facebook home page. Perhaps, teachers should think of using Facebook to post assignments as well, it’s convenient for the student who is already on Facebook to quickly check their assignments. With large lectures, students can post their questions on their class' Facebook wall so not to interrupt the lesson; these questions might even spark discussions amongst the class that teachers can directly facilitate.  Both teachers and students need to realize that going through the school's education website is not always the best way to catch a student, sometimes the teacher or educational system needs to bring their materials to the students. They can do this by getting their class materials and lectures up on Facebook, Twitter, Blog websites, etc. 
                An article written by Fewkes explains that 90% of students that had taken part in his survey were university students (Fewkes, 2012). This segment of a demographic is very influential and it would be a great success if there could be a positive link between social media networks and education. Some educational institutions though want to use social media networks to enhance learning and not take away from it or be a distraction. Students are very active on social networking sites, meaning that many have good communication skills. It is a challenge for schools to incorporate social media sites into their education while controlling the content the students can access while in class.  There needs to be a shift from social media network such as Facebook or Twitter being a negative impact on academics to an influential and helpful network for students to turn to for aid in their homework, studies, etc.
                An amazing Internet tool that has developed and grown over the years is the social media network.  There are many different social media networks available to students to join such as Twitter and LinkedIn. Most of them have a strong grasp on the lives of students in universities and colleges nationwide. One in particular, which is popular to see students on in class, is Facebook. It has generated over 845 million users and the majority of the users are in the age range of students that could be in college and university (18 years to 24 years old). The number of students conversing per hour and per day are staggering. Students are checking up on their friends’ status, photos that are posted, comments that are posted. However, there is a time and place for doing these things and in class or during lectures is not the time. Many surveys and research have been conducted to prove that social media networks are the reason to the downfall of students’ grade and educational performance. Twitter and Facebook, distract students when they need to review a lecture, write a paper, or study for exams and test. The distraction is called “continuous partial attention"(Conley, 2011), and it proves that students cannot focus solely on one task, i.e., pay attention to the teacher in class; they always need to be doing something else at the same time. However, this learning behaviour makes it impossible for the brain of students to absorb information and retain it. There are children who spend 7 to 11 hours on social media networks and entertainment programs, and that means the majority of the day they are staring some sort of screen and letting their lives tick by: no wonder why their grades are dropping. Students as well as teachers need to realize the potential that social media networks have and need to harness it and use it in a positive way that is productive educationally for both parties. Having the perfect balance between a social media network and homework can be achieved through self-disciplining and suitable scheduling. It is time for students to realize all the negative impacts mentioned throughout this blog are in fact affecting them and their schooling. Students need to start making big decisions and start changing their habits and becoming less distracted by social media networks.


Conley, D. (2011, 19 May). Wired for Distraction: Kids and Social Media. Time Magazine U.S . Retrieved on April 5th 2011 from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2048363,00.html

Cowler-Amoss, C. (2012, 1 March). Social media useful, yet distracting. The Advocate: Minnesota State University Moorhead. Retrieved on April 5th 2012 from http://msumadvocate.com/2012/03/social-media-useful-yet-distracting/

Fewkes, A. M., & McCabe, M. (2012). Facebook: Learning Tool or Distraction?. Journal Of Digital   Learning In Teacher Education, 28(3), 92-98. Retrieved April 4 2012 from EBSCOhost                 http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=72270772&site=ehost-live

Fitz, R. (2012, 8 March). Cover your Facebook: Library limits distraction with ban of social media.  University of Colorado: News and Information for Faculty and Staff. Retrieved on April 5th 2012    from http://connections.cu.edu/across-cu/cover-your-facebook-library-limits-distraction-with- ban-of-social-media/

Rouis, S., Limayem, M., & Salehi-Sangari, E. (2011). Impact of Facebook Usage on Students' Academic    Achievement: Role of self-regulation and trust. Electronic Journal Of Research In Educational             Psychology, 9(3), 961-994. Retrieved on April 4th 2012 from EBSCOhost http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=70137730&site=ehost-live

Warman, M. (2011, 22 September). UK students ‘most distracted by social media’. The Telegraph.           Retrieved on April 5th 2012 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/8781704/UK-students-most-distracted-by-social-media.html

(2011, 30 November). Social media too distracting for B.C. students [Video clip]. Retrieved on April 5th 2012 from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2011/11/30/bc-video-social-media-distraction.html

(2012, 3 April). Ottawa profs fight to put an end to distracted learning [Video clip]. Retrieved on April 5th  from http://ottawa.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20120403/OTT-university-Ottawa-laptop- ban-lecture-proposal-students-distracted-learning-120403/20120403/?hub=OttawaHome