Connecting with Chuck Martin: The Facebook Grader

At Facebook, we're constantly connecting with interesting people—from experts and researchers to celebrities or visitors to our office. Occasionally, we'll share these conversations on the Facebook blog in our "Connecting with..." series.

Chuck Martin and a team of researchers from the University of New Hampshire's Whittemore School of Business & Economics recently found that the amount of time students spend using social media and services like Facebook does not affect their grades. I talked with Martin, a lecturer at the school and the CEO of organizational research firm NFI Research, about those findings as well the use of social media in his classroom and its impact on the workplace. Martin is the author of eight business books, including his soon-to-be released "Work Your Strengths."

You and a team of researchers recently looked at the correlation between using social media and grades. What would you say is the big finding from your perspective?

The big finding is that there is actually no correlation between the amount of time that students spend using social media and their grades. We found that basically the heavy users and the light users get pretty much the same grades.

In addition to the finding that there isn't a correlation, what were some of the results about just how much students are using social media?

For the purposes of the study, we considered social media to be Facebook, YouTube, blogs, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn.... This study was very wide. It was 1,100-plus students out of the 12,000 at the university, and we surveyed every college at the university.

But of the heavy users of social media, 63 percent got high grades, and of the light users, 65 percent got high grades. So there is no real difference between the two. And of the heavy Facebook users, 62 percent got high grades. The light Facebook users, 62 percent got high grades. It was identical.

And did that surprise you?

It didn't. Interestingly, the hypothesis of the students was that there would be no correlation and they were correct. But if you talk to any adults, adults were totally surprised by this. And adults and parents typically have the view that you need to spend more time on your homework and less time on your social media so that your grades stay high. Well, it turns out that it makes no difference.

Why do you think there is this disconnect? Is this just a generational gap, or something about how people use (social media) differently?

It's not just generational, it's actually behavioral. If you look at the students today, they have grown up with things like Facebook and YouTube and blogs and so forth, so it's not a separate thing. In the early days of the web, people would be at work or school and they would start surfing the web and two hours later they would come back and say, "What was I looking for? I forgot."

They basically got lost in the experience, and today with social media it's actually become integrated with people's lives. So it's not a separate thing where people leave life and go do (social media). It actually has become part of what they do every day....

They have a multitasking ability that's a little different?

I created a course for the university called "Social Media in Marketing." (During class) we had my presentation on the screen live, and we were dipping in and out of the web. We had a live Twitter feed projected to a large screen, and we had a third screen with another projection, where we had a back channel so that people could communicate anonymously on the big screen.... There were three big screens in front of the classroom with three live network feeds, and we also had video and we had people patched in by Skype.

Everybody in the room used a computer for the entire three-hour class, and they were encouraged and actually did interact. They were tweeting with people around the country during the class about the content, and people were tweeting from outside the classroom from different parts of the country with questions that we would then tackle as a group.

And it turns out that the engagement level of the students was higher than a traditional classroom. We talked to a neuropsychologist, who is actually one of my co-authors, about this multitasking aspect and his view was that it's not really multitasking. It's really using different media simultaneously on the same subject matter.

That's really fascinating because the conventional wisdom is, "Oh, this is just a distraction from paying attention to the lecture."

Right, we had people come in and monitor the class. We had trustees or we had the finance people, and they were all astounded by what they were seeing. Every class was longer than it was supposed to be because we couldn't really get the students to stop.

Do you find that it extends the conversation outside the actual class, and are there other ways of using things like Facebook beyond the lecture?

We actually, for that course, ran the course on Facebook.... Since this was social media, we decided that we needed to use social media and we created the course on a private (Facebook) group. So all of the members of the class were in the group, and then each of the (study) groups created their own Facebook groups for their teams. The difference between that and a traditional course was the course then ran 24/7 because people were having conversations about the content all the time.... We will be teaching this course again in the summer and will be using Facebook for that as well.

Thinking further out, though, do you think that more classrooms will begin to adopt this idea of using social media both in the class and outside?

When we were doing the social media course...we had requests from outside the classroom from other parts of the country that they wanted a live streaming feed. So one time we just streamed it live onto the Net, and that's because of the demand. It's not necessarily because the teacher said he wished to do this. It's because the market said, "Hey, we should do this." Once you use the back channel in a classroom, for example, and it's highly interactive, it's difficult not to have it.

Where do you see Facebook and social media fitting into the workplace moving forward? What would be your advice to business leaders?

Let (employees) do it and encourage it. It's just like in the classroom: The great fear of adults for our class was that (we would have) all these people behind computer screens and that they weren't going to be paying attention to the class (but) going to be shopping and doing all these other things online.

Nobody did that, nobody. It just didn't happen, and if that happened it would mean that I was failing as a teacher.

It's the same thing in business. If you let your employees do their work more effectively, they will work more effectively.

Matt, a manager on Facebook's communications team, passed paper notes as a back channel when he was in school.
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