Social media use by first-generation college students and two forms of social capital: a revealed causal mapping approach

Deng et al. / Information Technology & People / February 2021

The purpose of this study is to examine social media use and its impacts on first generation students by answering the two questions: how do FGS use social media on college campuses, compared to their peers? How does the use of social media affect their academic experiences? This qualitative study adopted social capital theory as a sensitizing framework for understanding the social media (SM) use and the resources valued by first-generation students (FGS) and used a revealed causal mapping method to analyze the narratives of 96 informants to identify key constructs and linkages on SM use and perceived outcomes. The revealed causal mapping (RCM) analysis revealed nine key constructs that shaped the SM use and academic experience of FGS and their peers. The linkages among the nine constructs: three types of social capital (bridging, family bonding and friend bonding), three types of SM use (social, cognitive and hedonic) and three outcomes (academic support, emotional support and distraction to work) were different between FGS and their peers. Among FGS, SM use and perceptions differed by gender. Leveraging social media is critical for universities to enhance FGS persistence, yet knowledge remains limited. This study showed FGS differed from their counterparts in the SM use and perceptions. Among FGS, the SM use and perceptions differed by gender. The research contributions are: (1) SM technology can empower FGS by building social capital, impacting their academic experiences and psychological well-being and (2) the intersection of gender and student generation status is worth investigation. This paper enriches FGS research by proposing a model of SM use and social capital.