The Relationship between Online Social Networking and Academic and Social Integration
Kord, JoLanna, Wolf-Wendel, Lisa, College Student Affairs Journal
This article examines the relationship between online social networking (OSN) and perceptions of academic and social integration for first-year residential students at a rural regional comprehensive university. Students spent an average of 2.5 hours on OSN websites per day, primarily interacting with campus peers, friends and family. There was minimal OSN interaction with faculty and other non-student members of the campus community. OSN was not a significant predictor of social integration. Controlling for background variables, OSN was a significant negative predictor of academic integration.
Today, college students always seem to be electronically connected. They listen to mp3 players, play computer games, talk on their cell phones, send text messages and e-mails, and spend a lot of time on computers surfing the Internet and interacting on various online social networking (OSN) sites. How much time do they spend on these activities? What effect do these forms of connection have on their college experience? The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between one form of this electronic connection - online social networking (OSN) ~ and academic and social integration for firstyear residential students at a rural regional comprehensive university. This study measures the extent to which students are involved in OSN and identifies their social networks. It also provides insight into how student involvement in OSN is related to academic and social integration at a single institution.
OSN allows for individuals to create their own unique web presence, commonly called a social networking profile. Through this "profile," students Uve an online identity while exploring friendships and relationships with other individuals who also have profiles on the same social networking website (Facebook.com, 2007). College students use a variety of online social networks, including facebook.com, myspace.com and xanga.com (Eberhardt, 2006). Students create their profile by answering generic questions that prompt them to disclose personal information. In addition to contact information such as name, e-mail, address, and telephone number, a profile contains information categorizing individuals based on interests in music, movies, and hobbies. The profile also allows for self-expression through pictures and videos.
College student involvement in OSN appears to be a daily activity that has increased in popularity in the last few years (Bugeja, 2006; Capriccioso, 2006; Finder, 2006; Hirsch, 2006; Kim, 2005; Shier, 2005). Worries about student exploitation, excessive disclosure of personal information, and negative portrayals of students or die institution have led some institutions to send students proactive messages expressing concerns and explaining the responsibilities tied to OSN (Bugeja; Read & Young, 2006). Many of these concerns arise from student inexperience surrounding public accessibility to information posted on the web (Bugeja; Read, 2006).
OSN interactions between students and members of the campus community could play a key role in student integration into college, thus influencing persistence. This study identifies die role OSN plays in the college student experience and establishes ÖSN as a form of involvement as defined by Astin (1984). The literature shows undergraduate college students spend a significant amount of time on OSN websites (Grigg & Johnson, 2006; Jones & Soltren, 2005; Kolek & Saunders, 2008; Stutzman, 2006). However, it is unknown whether OSN holds the same value in connecting students to the institution that on-campus involvement does, or rf OSN is a complement to or inhibitor of connecting to the college. One of the areas of focus in this study is to identify the amount of external connectedness students maintain through OSN to see if that has an effect on academic and social integration. The practice of OSN also raises questions about the influences OSN may have for students who sequester themselves in their own private spaces, instead of being socially involved in oncampus activities. This study informs higher education professionals about the influences of OSN as it relates to the persistence literature, and defines the role OSN plays in the college student experience. It also provides empirical evidence to guide decision-making and policies for higher education professionals.
College student involvement in OSN has garnered some recent research attention. OSN began to gain popularity among college students in 2004 and it garnered commentary and opinion based essays (Grigg & Johnson, 2006). In a New York Times essay, Hass (2006) suggested student affairs professionals ought to tap into the popularity of OSN sites such as Facebook to create a sense of campus community. Other essays make similar pleas about using OSN as a resource to help students, although these same essays express concerns about how OSN may also harm students (Eberhardt, 2006; Read, 2006; Trotter, 2006). The research literature tends to focus on OSN user characteristics and how OSN is linked to die disclosure of personal information (Grigg & Johnson, 2006; Kolek & Saunders, 2008; Stutzman, 2006; Jones & Sultren, 2005). A few studies have examined the potential link between technology use (rather than OSN specific research) and poor academic performance (Gatz & Hirt, 2000; Kubey, Lavin, & Burrows, 2001).
Grigg and Johnson (2006), Stutzman (2006), and Jones and Sultren (2005) found the majority of first-year students in tìieir samples were active in OSN (Facebook) prior to their arrival on campus. These studies also concluded that freshman continued using OSN once on campus, and were likely to join online groups that were linked to on-campus networks. These same studies suggest OSN use is popular among coUege students and users put a significant amount of time and effort into creating and updating their profiles. Kolek and Saunders (2008) found 82% of coUege students had Facebook profiles, and women were slightly more likely than men to have such profiles. Further, white students were slightiy more likely to have Facebook profiles tlian were students of color. Malaney (2004) found time spent online has increased rapidly; in 2000, students spent an average of 16.5 hours per week online whüe the 2003 average increased to 28.5 hours per week.
In examining profile content, Kolek and Saunders (2008) and Jones and Sultran (2005) found the majority (over 58%) of students disclosed personal information and their course schedules. Botii studies found that the most active users (those who update their profiles most frequentiy and have many friends) disclose the most personal information. Jones and Sultran also added mat younger users and those who had most recendy opened a Facebook account disclosed more personal information than older, more experienced users.
A few studies have examined the link between Internet use and academic performance. Earlier studies focused on Internet addiction, concluding that a smaU proportion of students may spend so much time online it interferes with their ability to engage effectively in an academic environment (Grohol, 1999; Young, 1998). A more recent study reported a positive correlation between self-reported academic difficulties and the amount of time spent online (Kubey, Lavin, & Burrows, 2001). Similarly, a quaUtative study by Gatz and Hirt (2000) concluded that the time students spend using e-maü limits the time they might spend on activities, "more conducive to social and academic integration" (p. 315). These studies, however, were focused on general computer usage rather than specifically focusing on OSN. The question remains, does involvement in OSN either positively or negatively influence a student's academic and social integration into coUege?
Tinto's (1986) Theory of Student Departure and Astin's (1984) Theory of Student Involvement frame this study. These theories focus on student behaviors as a key component in the educational process. The theories also explain how integration and involvement are linked to college student persistence.
Tinto's (1993) Theory of Student Departure assesses student perceptions of academic and social interactions within the institutional environment and the influence of these factors on the decision to persist. Tinto (1986) contends that students go through three stages of connection during their first year of college: separation, transition, and incorporation. A student's ability to navigate these three stages culminates in either persistence or departure from the institution. Determining the significance of the relationship between OSN and Tinto's academic and social integration constructs is a key part of this study.
Although Tinto's (1993) departure model focuses on the student during the college experience, he recognizes an individual's pre-college attributes, goals, and commitments influence persistence. Tinto determined these pre-college attributes to be gender, ethnic origin or race, prior academic achievement, socioeconomic status, social status (capital), parents' education levels, ACT/SAT test scores, and high school grade point average. In Tinto's (1993) model, students' goals and commitments are recognized prior to attendance, but are also studied as an outcome of students' interactions within the instimtional environment. OSN interactions may influence educational goals and commitments the same as in-person interactions do. According to Tinto, outcomes of institutional experiences are measured by the degree of student academic and social integration. And, the degree of academic and social integration is related to persistence and degree completion. Measuring time on OSN websites and degree of academic and social integration validates this influential relationship.
In addition to the institutional experiences, Tinto's departure model also accounts for external influences that may shape students' goals and commitment prior to and during college attendance. OSN allows for students to remain connected to their families and to maintain relationships with individuals external to the institutional environment. Tinto believes these types of external influences play a role in the integrative experience, persistence, degree attainment, and instimtional satisfaction of students.
Astin's Student Involvement theory is useful because it defines student behaviors based on the amount of time and energy expended as a function of the educational experience. Astin's (1993) Inputs-Environment-Outcomes (IE-O) model is used for "assessing the various environmental experiences by determining whether students grow or change differendy under varying environmental conditions" (p. T). For this study, the input (T) component measures the pre-college entry attributes as described previously in the Tinto (1993) section. The environment (E) component measures the amount of time students spend on OSN websites, their academic commitment, and their levels of on-campus social involvement. The outcome (O) component measures students' perceptions of academic and social integration.
Astin (1984) stresses that his involvement theory places emphasis on the behavioral component of participation in an educational activity. His theory contends that, "student involvement is gauged by the amount of physical and psychological energy the student devotes to the academic experience" (p. 297). Astin suggests time is the most important student resource. According to Astin (1985), a student who is considered highly involved spends a large amount of time studying, is active in both campus organizations and extracurricular activities, and has frequent interaction with both faculty and peers. This study measures levels of involvement in OSN, academic commitment and on-campus social involvement. This research recognizes OSN as a form of student involvement. What is currently unknown is the extent to which OSN serves as a form of involvement and whether this involvement helps or hinders the student educational experience.
This article explores the relationship between OSN and academic and social integration for first-year freshmen residential students at a rural regional comprehensive university. The study asks:
1. How involved are coUege students in OSN?
2. How important is OSN to the coUege experience?
3. Controlling for relevant background variables and coUege behaviors (i.e., hours enroUed in, percentage of classes attended, number of clubs and activities, etc.), what is the relationship between student involvement in OSN and perceptions of academic integration (measured through 3 subscales)?
a. Does OSN predict student perceptions of faculty concern for student development and teaching?
b. Does OSN predict student perceptions of academic and inteUectual development?
c. Does OSN predict student perceptions of institutional and goal commitments?
4. Controlling for relevant background variables and coUege behaviors, what is the relationship between student involvement in OSN and perceptions of social integration_wifh both peers and faculty (measured through 2 subscales)?
The students sampled in fids study came from a Midwestern, rural, public, regional comprehensive institution, with a total enrollment of approximately 6,000 and an undergraduate population of approximately 4,500. We refer to the institution as Middle University or MU in the paper. Although the institution offers classes online and at satellite sites, the instimtion is mainly residential and first-year freshmen students are required to live in on-campus residence halls. The vast majority (88%) of the students reside in-state, and 68% of the students were enrolled full-time in 12 or more credit hours. The undergraduate population is 61% females and 39% males, and the majority of the undergraduate population is Caucasian (81%). The institution has qualified admission standards but is not considered selective.
The survey consisted of three parts. Part one measured students' perceptions of their involvement in OSN and its importance in the educational experience. Perceptions of the importance of OSN in the coUege experience were measured through six Iikert-type items (measured on a scale from 1 to 5, witli 5 equal to "strongly agree"). Part two used a pre-existing survey designed by Pascarella and Terenzini (1980), which measured levels of academic and social integration. Items in this section also used a 5-point Likert scale. Part three coUected demographic information and coUege academic and social behaviors (i.e., credit hours enrolled, percentage of classes attended, minutes spent studying per week, membership in clubs and organizations and minutes spent in extracurricular activities). The PascareUa and Terenzini instrument consisted of 30 items in five scales. All of the items are based on student perceptions. Three of the scales measure aspects of academic integration: "perceptions of faculty concern for student development and teaching" (5 items), "perceptions of academic and intellectual development" (7 items), and "perceptions of institational and goal commitments" (6 items). Two of the scales measure social integration: "perceptions of peer group interactions" (7 items) and "perceptions of interaction with faculty" (5 items). The reliability estimates for the academic and social integration scales were within acceptable ranges (See Table 1).
Administration of the Survey
A pen/paper survey was administered to aU on-campus first-year students through the Residential Life Department at Middle University (MU) at the end of the faU semester. The surveys achieved a 55.8% return rate (634 surveys distributed, with 354 completed and returned). The researchers verified the representativeness of the sample population by comparing it to the overall MU first-year residential population as provided by MU in its fall 2007 data book (See Table 2).
Information gleaned from the descriptive statistics (Means, Standard Deviation, and Frequencies) described the sample and determined the level and importance of involvement in OSN. The researchers also ran descriptive statistics on all key dependent and independent variables. In addition, the study incorporated five separate multiple linear regression analyses to determine the relationship between OSN and academic and social integration. Significance was determined for all statistics with p<.05, while tolerance (set at.30) and VIF levels determined collinearity. Pre-college attributes were held constant to separate out their effects when assessing the relationship between OSN and students' levels of academic and social integration. In the academic integration multiple regression analyses, the researchers entered demographic variables, academic involvement variables and time spent on OSN in 3 separate blocks. Following Astin's I-E-O model, the first block were demographic variables, the second block were involvement variables and the third block was time spent on OSN. The dependent variables for academic integration were "perceptions of faculty concern for student development and teaching," "perceptions of academic and intellectual development, and "perceptions of institutional and goal commitments." For the social integration multiple regression, the researchers entered the demographic, on-campus social involvement variables, and then time spent on OSN. These variables were also entered in blocks. The dependent variables for the social integration multiple regression was "perceptions of peer group interactions" and "perceptions of interactions with faculty."
This section reports descriptive data on the students' perceptions of the importance of OSN to their college experience, their involvement behaviors, and their perceptions of their own academic and social integration. The four multiple regression analyses conclude this section. These analyses examine the relationship between OSN behavior and die academic and social integration scales, while controlling for relevant background and involvement behaviors.
Descriptive Results: Students' Behavior and Perceptions Relative to OSN
Patterns of OSN Behavior. Eighty-seven percent of students surveyed participated in OSN prior to attending college. Ninety-seven percent of respondents currently participate in OSN. The average amount of time spent on OSN daily was 148.36 minutes (2.5 hours). Both die median and the mode were 120 minutes (2 hours). Table 3 presents the data representing measures of central tendency for online friends and group membership. These data showed students used OSN to stay connected to past and current friends. Very few students (n=<10) used OSN as a means to communicate with faculty or staff. In fact, the average number of faculty and staff "friends" was one. On average, students joined approximately 19 online groups.
The Importance of OSN to the College Experience. Table 4 reports the descriptive statistics for die variables measuring the importance of OSN. More than half of the students (54.8%) either agreed or strongly agreed that OSN was important to their coUege social experience. Sixty percent agreed or strongly agreed that OSN aUowed them to express themselves. Eighty-four percent felt that OSN allowed them to keep in contact with high school friends and other college friends, while 53% agreed or strongly agreed OSN aUowed them to stay in touch with family members. Thirteen percent indicated that they missed class because they were engaged in OSN behavior.
College Academic and Sodai Involvement Behaviors. Data collected on the variables of academic and extracurricular behaviors were used as predictors of integration. Table 5 illustrates these descriptive statistics. On average, students enroUed in 15 credit hours, attended class regularly, and studied 6.8 hours a week. The students were not very involved socially in extracurricular activities. The average group membership for the sample was low (M = 1.09), the range was wide, and the standard deviation for time spent involved in related activities was quite large (SD = 5.9 hours). The study sample included a few student athletes, and the inclusion of their extraordinary time commitments skews the data upward (evidenced by the range of up to 1800 minutes per week).
Perceptions of Academic and Social Integration. The descriptive statistics for the key dependent variables from Pascarella and Terenzini's (1980) Academic and Social Integration scales showed, on average, students were neutral about the extent to which they were academically and socially integrated into the institution (See Table 6). Only 28% of students said they agreed or strongly agreed they had established meaningful relationships with peers and 18% stated that they had meaningful interactions with faculty. Indeed, almost 12% disagreed or strongly disagreed that they had established positive relationships with faculty and peers. Approximately 17% of students agreed or strongly agreed that faculty were concerned about student development and teaching and 21% agreed or strongly agreed they had experienced positive levels of academic and intellectual development. Students' perceptions of institutional and goal commitments were strong, as 71% agreed or strongly agreed with the items in this scale.
Multivariate Results: The Relationship between OSN and Academic and Social Integration
As is demonstrated in Tables 7, 8 and 9, the results of the multiple regression analyses showed time spent on OSN websites was a significant negative predictor of the academic integration variables, "perceived faculty concern for student development and teaching," and "perceived academic and intellectual development." These academic integration scales describe the perceptions students have regarding the quality of their experiences and of the faculty's commitment to this experience. A detailed examination of the multiple regression analyses follows.
Relationship between OSN and Perceptions of Faculty Concern for Student Development and Teaching. The bivariate correlation between the dependent variable "perceived faculty concern for student development and teaching" and "time spent on OSN websites per day" was significandy negatively correlated (r = -.132, p - .016). This could mean the more time students spend on OSN the less likely they are to perceive faculty care about their personal development, or the more students perceive faculty do not care about their personal development the more time they spend on OSN. A multiple linear regression measured whether this relationship persists after controlling for background variables and academic and extracurricular behaviors. Table 8 shows the coefficients for the regression equation. ACT score and percentage of classes attended per week proved to be significant positive predictors of student perceptions of faculty concern for student development and teaching. In contrast, results showed OSN to be a significant negative predictor of student perceptions of faculty concern for student development and teaching. The results show, while holding the input and academic involvement variables constant, as students spent more time on OSN websites they were less likely to positively perceive faculty concern for student development and teaching.
Relationship between OSN and Perception of Academic & Intellectual Development. The bivariate correlation between OSN and perception of academic and intellectual development was not significant (r = -.101, p = .063). There was no relationship between these two variables. A multiple linear regression shows the predictive relationship between time spent on OSN websites per day and student perceptions of academic and intellectual development while controlling for input variables and academic involvement variables (See Table 8). Percentage of classes attended was a significant positive predictor and time spent OSN was a significant negative predictor of perceptions of academic and intellectual development. Controlling for input and academic involvement variables, as students spent more time on OSN websites, they were less likely to positively perceive growth in their academic and intellectual development.
Relationship between OSN and Perceptions of Institutional and Goal Commitments. The bivariate correlation between time spent in OSN and perceptions of institutional and goal commitments was not significant (r = -.020, p = .716). No relationship existed between these variables, nor was there a relationship between OSN and institutional and goal commitments after controlling for input and academic involvement variables (See Table 9). The significant predictors of perceptions of institutional and goal commitments were percentage of classes attended per week, gender (male), and Pell grant qualification.
Relationship between OSN and Social Integration with Peers. There was no significant relationship between "perceptions of peer group interactions" and "time spent on OSN websites" (r - -.065, p = .233. ). Further, the multiple regression analysis indicates the relationship between time spent on OSN websites and perceptions of social integration with peers remains non-significant after controlling for input variables and on-campus social involvement variables. The significant predictors were high school grade point average, ACT, membership in on-campus groups, organizations and clubs, and being male. Table 1 0 shows the coefficients predicting social integration with peers.
Relationship between OSN and Perceptions of Interactions with Faculty. There was also no significant correlation between perceptions of interactions with faculty and time spent engaged in OSN (r= -.083, p > = .127). The significant predictors for the multiple regression predicting perceptions of interactions with faculty were ACT score, membership in on-campus groups, organizations and clubs, and parent's average education level (see Table 11).
Students spend a considerable amount of time engaging in OSN behaviors (on average, 10 hours a week). OSN is mainly used to connect to on- and offcampus friends and family, rather than as a means to interact with faculty and staff. For first-year freshmen, OSN seems to have prolonged or even negated the separation stage that Tinto (1986) alludes to in his theory. Students may be physically removed from their pre-college environment, but they are still very much connected to their prior personal contacts. Using OSN to maintain existing peer and family relationships is understandable, because the technology allows for communication to continue in any location at any time. One could also argue that, even without OSN sites, today's students would be more connected to parents and high school friends than past generations due to their heavy reliance on other electronic communication devices (e.g., cell phones, email, text messaging, etc.). Nonetheless, OSN serves as a key medium to maintain prior social connections and networks and, as such, may have a negative effect on the separation called for by Tinto's theory. This lack of separation may lead to a higher percentage of students facing adjustment difficulties and perhaps academic failure.
Although Facebook, the most popular of the OSN websites, is linked to the institution via a network affiliation, and students perceived OSN as important to their educational experience, OSN involvement was not significantiy related to social integration with faculty or with peers. While online social networks can be useful in helping students to navigate the transition phase of Tinto's theory (1986) in that students can use OSN to interact online with campus peers, OSN can also inhibit students from being more involved in standard oncampus involvement channels. Indeed, it is noteworthy that the students in this study had fairly low levels of involvement in on-campus groups and organizations. Perhaps OSN is serving as a substitute for in-person social interactions. As Astin (1984) notes, a student's time is finite. If students are spending significant amounts of time engaged in OSN, they have less time to spend interacting with on-campus peers through key face-to-face methods.
This study also shows the amount of time spent in OSN to be a significant negative predictor of students' perceptions of faculty concern for student development and teaching, and for academic and intellectual development, after controlling for input and academic involvement variables. Prior research shows these dependent variables are positively related to persistence (Tinto, 1993; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1980; PascareUa & Terenzini, 1998). This perceived lack of connection is especially disturbing, given the need for first-year college students to integrate into both the academic and social dimensions of the college environment if they are to persist The long-term effects of dedicating large amounts of time to OSN involvement could prove detrimental to student academic achievement and ultimately degree completion.
Future Reseat Directions
Based on the limited amount of empirical research dedicated to OSN and persistence, a clear need remains for a more thorough investigation (both quantitative and qualitative) of its influences on the college student experience. The negative correlations between time spent on OSN websites and previously identified variables that are positively linked to persistence are key indicators that more research needs to be conducted. Specifically, a longitudinal study measuring actual re-enrollment behavior would allow for a more accurate determination of the relationship between OSN and retention rather than having to rely solely on integration as a proxy measure. Students in this study were asked about their intentions to reenroll the following semester. However, very litde variance surfaced in the measure, as more than 90% of the students indicated they planned on reenrolling at the institution.
College students have a finite amount of time available to dedicate to academic commitments, so an accurate assessment of the amount of time actually being spent in OSN is warranted. The data from this study showed students who spent more time in OSN were less academically and social integrated to the campus. However, self-reporting "typical" amounts of time spent on OSN websites, studying, and in extracurricular activities could have been inaccurate, since none of these measurements were actually recorded with a timing device. In addition, the number of online friends and the categories used could have been misrepresented because the students did not have access to their Facebook profiles during the survey administration. Further studies about the relationship between on-campus involvement and OSN involvement could clarify this information.
A study with a larger, more diverse sample would be useful. Gathering additional information to further define the student population could identify sub-populations who are more likely to be influenced by OSN. For example, what effect does holding a job have on OSN and its influences? What effect does being a member of a learning community, being in an honors program or enrolling in thematically grouped classes have on OSN behavior and subsequent outcomes? These variables could also affect student engagement in their academic pursuits.
In this study, the set of questions describing the perceived importance of OSN showed participants believed OSN to be a part of the college student experience influencing both academic and social experiences while allowing for selfexpression. This information brings a unique perspective to the research, as these topic areas had yet to be explored. A qualitative study that focuses on the role of OSN in the college student experience could provide valuable insight to support persistence efforts and policy generation by higher education professionals.
Implications and Conclusion
This research is a continuation of existing studies that explored how student use of technology influenced their integration into higher education communities. The technology resources available for college students on college and university campuses and the encouragement of its use for both academic and social purposes continues to shape college student experiences. The results of this study were not broad enough to conclude that participation in OSN was detrimental to students' academic performance or persistence. Nonetheless, this study confirms that OSN is a statistically significant negative predictor of academic integration and that the negative relationship between OSN and academic integration remained even after controlling for background and academic involvement variables. In addition, the data confirmed that time spent on OSN websites was negatively correlated to Tinto and Astin's theoretical constructions, which in turn, can have a negative influence on persistence.
The challenges for administrators at institutions such as Middle University He in the ability to counter-balance the negative relationship between time spent in OSN and social and academic integration for their first-year residential students. The data show students are arriving on campus with established OSN connections, and educating students regarding its potential negative influences should begin at orientation sessions. Prior to this research, OSN issues were expressed anecdotally; these data support the need to educate students, faculty, staff, and administrators about the negative influences of OSN on students' integration. Institutions of higher education should be responsible for informing students of its potential negative influences.
Communication among advising, counseling, and student conduct professionals will be vital for identifying students who may be experiencing academic difficulties due to OSN. In addition, administrators should allocate resources to educate students about OSN and its potential negative influences. Lasdy, as this study shows, few students perceive OSN as a means of interacting with faculty and staff. Tinto (1993) suggests interactions between students and faculty external to the classroom environment are vital to persistence. Because OSN is so pervasive, faculty members might look for ways to engage students in OSN by connecting it to the curriculum through academic group affiliations. A good starting point would be through thematically grouped courses and with honors programs.
Faculty and staff must be mindful of the potential negative consequences of interacting with students through OSN sites. Several recent articles suggest there are important ethical considerations that must occur before faculty or staff members "friend" students with whom they have a working relationship (Clague, 2008; Gutgold, 2008; Lipka, 2007). By its very nature, OSN is casual, informal, even intimate, and the potential exists for inappropriate student/ faculty relationships. How to use OSN as a means to assist students and facilitate better communication between students and faculty/staff is a question deserving more exploration. Meanwhile, recognizing the negative relationship between OSN and students academic and social integration is worthy of attention from both researchers and practitioners.
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