A study by Rutter (2009) in the latest ALT-J considers the informal use of MSN in higher education, particularly in a very large computer commons. The result: students using MSN (or Messenger-style applications) not at all and extensively have the advantage over those students who use it sparingly. This is actually an unusual and counter-intuitive result. Rather than intermediate students being disadvantaged, it is easier to imagine students using it too much (being distracted) or not at all (missing out) as being at risk. Students in the survey were studying computing modules, and used MSN for both social and academic purposes. Many students reported disabling MSN when they want to concentrate on their study.
It is worth mentioning that students who did not use MSN at all had a slight edge over those who used it all of the time, however it is also essential to remember that there are many more factors involved in student success than whether or not they make use of MSN! One question that remains with me: Is MSN use a result of student success rather than a determinant of it? In other words, could it be that those students who tend to have successful study habits are extreme in their use of MSN - either using it all of the time or never at all? Could it be that heavy users are more aware of their need to use MSN strategically, and that non-users use their discretion to not use a medium they perceive as not offering them any value for the purposes of study?
Rutter proposes further investigation, noting that "it may turn out that highly socialised, networked students make better learners, whether they use the application or not" (p.43). By this, he presumably means that non-users are sufficiently socialised offline to not need to use MSN and high users best know how to exploit the tool to benefit them. Without further detail on how high-users are using MSN, it is difficult to be definite. Studies such as this demonstrate how little is really known about the use of MSN and other synchronous chat tools in formal education.