Monday, April 13, 2009

OSU Researcher Discovers Dorks

UPDATE: Aryn Karpinski is a completely nice and very reasonable person. Shame on me for being so snarky. She actually tracked me down and phoned me (and emailed me) in order to tell her side of the story. She starts "I am a doctoral student, and I am definitely not used to this kind of exposure." And goes on to say that she is completely shocked at the attention she has received for what was a side interest and really is unrelated to the primary focus of her research. "Many things I said in the interview were twisted and manipulated to sound a certain way," she says, and goes on to write in her email
The main thing to remember is that this research is correlational, which the media does not seem to understand (no surprise). I am not saying that Facebook CAUSES poor academic performance. I am saying that the research shows that there is a RELATIONSHIP between Facebook use and academic performance. There are a host of third variables that need to be examined that are potentially influencing this relationship such as personality, work, extracurricular involvement, other distractions, etc. Also, I'm sure that if it wasn't Facebook it would be another distraction. See how they twisted my words? Fun fun...
I have included the full text of her email at the bottom of my original post which I leave as an embarrassment to myself -- I should have started out by trying to reach her.

Original Post:

In brilliant news out of Ohio State University, a "doctoral student" in education at OSU has made the startling discovery that some undergraduates simply lack social skills, also known as being a "dork." In this press release issued by Ohio State (!) researcher Aryn Karpinski further observes that these dorks tend to have a very low participation in social network technologies such as Facebook.

HERE IS THE KEY STATISTIC:
The study found that 85 percent of undergraduates were Facebook users.
Tell me, anyone, why is that critical statistic left out of all of the media coverage of this idiotic study?

One level deeper - there were a total of ONLY 102 UNDERGRADUATES included in the survey. Thus, based on 87 kids with Facebook accounts, and 15 kids without Facebook accounts, and based on their own self-reported GPAs, we can now conclude that, in Aryn's words:
Facebook is a unique phenomenon. It is the equivalent of the difference between getting an A and a B.
Really? Maybe instead we should end with Aryn's own admission, courtesy of the Ohio State press release:
“For me, I think Facebook is a huge distraction,” she said.
As for the graduate students included in the survey I'll simply say Be Careful Not To Get Too Much Education :-)

Aryn's email to me, explaining her research
Mr. Shelton,

Yes! This coverage is a bit overwhelming. I am a doctoral student, and I am definitely not used to this kind of exposure.

Thanks for your interest in the research. As you can see, it has taken on a new life on the web, and I have to tell you that what was reported was sensationalized (The Sunday Times London, who breached the embargo on this research). Many things I said in the interview were twisted and manipulated to sound a certain way, as you guessed.

The main purpose of my study was to explore the demographic composition of a Facebook user at the college level. I also wanted to investigate academic achievement in relation to Facebook use. The major findings were that Facebook users were more likely younger, full-time, undergraduate, and STEM and Business majors (STEM = Statistics, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Medical). Also, Facebook users tended to spend less time in paid work per week, more hours per week in extracurricular activities, and more hours on the Internet daily (not in my poster). I did a MANOVA with Facebook and Student Status (i.e., Undergraduate vs. Graduate) as the factors, and GPA and Hours Spent Studying as the dependent variables. I found that there was not a significant interaction between FB use and student status. This was important to rule out as a confound. As you know, graduate GPAs are typically inflated meaning that it is rare to see a graduate GPA less than 3.5. It was found that there were significant differences between users and nonusers in that users had GPAs in the 3.0 - 3.5 range and also studied in the 1 to 5 hour range per week. Nonusers had GPAs in the 3.5 - 4.0 range and studied 11 to 15 hours per week. These differences were also significant in each individual population (i.e., in the separate undergraduate and graduate populations; p < .001 for both). Which, again, this is an interesting finding because graduate GPAs rarely are that low.

The main thing to remember is that this research is correlational, which the media does not seem to understand (no surprise). I am not saying that Facebook CAUSES poor academic performance. I am saying that the research shows that there is a RELATIONSHIP between Facebook use and academic performance. There are a host of third variables that need to be examined that are potentially influencing this relationship such as personality, work, extracurricular involvement, other distractions, etc. Also, I'm sure that if it wasn't Facebook it would be another distraction. See how they twisted my words? Fun fun... Also, it's not clear what it tells us even if you do find a correlation between Facebook use and grades. One could easily argue that the latter predicts the former not the other way around (i.e., those who tend to get worse grades end up spending more time on Facebook).

I am fully aware of the limitations of my study, and merely want people, personnel at universities, researchers, parents, and students to think about this intricate relationship.

A little background on the side, this is not even my dissertation topic! I decided to do this small survey study just to get impressions and explore this area. I quickly did a poster for the conference, along with reading as much literature as possible. This is not my specialization or expertise. I am really just interested in this for fun, and plan to work on this on the side. There are many more qualified professors and individuals than me to speak on this matter. I just wanted to acknowledge this and let you know that I am learning along with everyone else.

Anyways, I would love to hear your thoughts. I am presenting this at AERA on Thursday in San Diego. If I can help out with anything else, please let me know. Thank you and talk to you soon!

Sincerely,

Aryn Karpinski
I advised her to be continue to be proactive and reach out to people on twitter and on blogs to tell her side of the story -- the same advice I would give to a client of The Conversation Group caught up in a similar media maelstrom. The best way to smack down idiots like me is to be gracious, entirely reasonable and authentic, as Aryn definitely was.

2 comments:

hugh.mason said...

LOL Ted you know there's a button the media presses to trigger a replay of exactly this kind of ding-dong script every time a new technology comes out. Looks to me like you and Aryn accidentally cast yourselves cameos - you aren't the first and won't be the last!

The scene is always the same - two opposing visions of the future - a utopia and a dystopia. Here are some familiar variations on the theme:

1920s:"The airplane will make countries indefensible to attack by their enemies"

"The airplane will create a new order of peace and harmony as national boundaries are transcended and seen from the air to be meaningless"

1930s:"Robots will serve us beer on the lawn and we'll never need to work again!"

"Robots will take over the world and make us all slaves!"

1940s:"TV will destroy kids literacy and rot their brains"

"TV will open a window onto the world and show kids a world they could never otherwise encounter"

In other words we always project our worst fears and greatest hopes onto new technology that has yet to be assimilated into our lives.

Once society understands where a technology fits in, the truth is always much more prosaic. So, today we know that:

* riding an airplane means getting on a metal tube and then you decide between chicken or beef. You're told you are flying at 40,000 feet but seeing as it looks exactly the same where you get off as where you get on, it could just be a massive con trick.

* our homes are stuffed with robotic devices like automatic washing machines that just do their stuff. Nobody apart from the Japanese seems to want a clanking metal man hanging around.

* TV is now just another noise in the corner of the room. (Sorry to be so cut and dried about that, old-media readers, I used to make TV for a living but you and your intrusive advertisers have totally debased it and that's why people are turning off in their millions.)

Everything internet-related seems to me to be following the same path. The media would have you believe that either it's going to corrupt your kids with paedo pornography, or it's going enable a laptop for every child to educate the developing world just like that - problem solved.

None of which is to say that social media is insignificant. Air travel and TV did change the world in their own ways but our generation doesn't fret about them in the same way our grandparents did.

It's fun to know we're creating archive material for our grandchildren to laugh at while we try to work out 'what Facebook means' isn't it?

Why said...

I'd be more sympathetic to this researcher's comments if she was a Facebook user, which she is not.