Social network analysis for the study of learning

Social network analysis (SNA) can be used in many different ways in the study of learning. Some examples of these are:

Learning design – finding ways to design courses which don’t follow the instructor-led model but which allow students to ask and answer questions with each other. Involving the students in this way leads to higher levels of engagement with and understanding of the course material. The paper by Lockyer and colleagues gives more detail about this use of SNA.

Sense of community – identifying students who may not feel like they are part of the community of learners in a course, and coming up with ways to improve their sense of community. SNA based on online discussion forums can be used instead of questionnaires to identify these students. See the paper by Dawson for  more information about this approach.

Creative potential – trying to identify the network brokers i.e. the students who are the link between communities with the network, as they are often the students with the greatest creative potential. This is due to them being exposed to information and ideas from multiple networks, so they have the chance to put all the information together in new and creative ways. For an example of this, see the paper by Burt and colleagues.

Academic performance – there is a link between network position and a student’s location within a network. If there are cross-class networks i.e. the same students enrol in the same subjects, then the performance of these students in higher than those who take classes separately. Students who were at the centre of the network typically performed better. Gasevic and colleagues have written a paper on this topic.

Social presence – students who are able to present themselves and their personality are said to have social presence. The online interactions of students can be investigated to try and identify the level of social presence that each student has. This allows instructors to develop and implement strategies to encourage those students with a low social presence to improve it. See the paper by Kovanovic for an explanation of this use of SNA.

MOOCs – identifying the effectiveness of connectivist MOOCS (cMOOCs) i.e. those which encouraged students to acquire knowledge for themselves rather than be led by an instructor. SNA can be used to see if the information flows and community formation within the cMOOC reflect the goal of moving the responsibility for learning from the instructor to the students. Skrypnyk and colleagues have written a paper on this use of SNA in learning.

Before taking this MOOC, I wasn’t aware of the wide range of potential uses of learning analytics. I thought that they were designed for identifying students currently at risk or trying to predict those students who might fall into this category later in their studies. However, after seeing the case studies for this week, I now realise how powerful a tool they are and that they can be used in many different settings.

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About Andrew

I'm a health librarian in Sydney, Australia, who also happens to be a geocacher.

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