Blog 6: Social Networks and Student Engagement

By and large we know that students struggle to stay engaged in the classroom and classrooms at any level can end up looking similar to Figure 1.

Whether from our own experience as a student, teacher, or parent; this is an often-experienced phenomenon. In fact, research has confirmed throughout time that many students are not engaged in school (Steinberg, Brown, & Dornbush, 1996; Yazzie-Mintz, 2007). Jennifer Fredericks, a leading scholar in the field of engagement warned of the consequences of disengagement stating that they “are especially severe. These youth are less likely to graduate from high school and face limited employment prospects, increasing their risk for poverty, poorer health, and involvement in the criminal justice system…” (Fredericks, 2011). For this reason, I find it extremely important to explore student engagement in a variety of contexts to not only understand the consequences of disengagement, but also to understand what is associated with higher rates of engagement.

For this reason, I plan to investigate the relationship between how connected a student is in the classroom social network, and their individual reports of engagement. Kindermann and colleagues suggest that students make friends with others who have similar levels of engagement (1993; 1996), and Ryan (2000) reports that peers can support each other’s engagement through information sharing and modeling. Given this evidence, I hypothesize that highly connected students in the social network will report higher levels of engagement. To investigate this idea, I plan to answer the following three research questions:

  1. Is a student’s level of connection to a classroom social network related to their levels of engagement in the course
    • Are highly connected students more or less engaged?
  2. Does a student’s level of connection to a classroom social network differentially impact the 4 different dimensions of engagement?
  3. Are there differences in level of connection by gender?

To investigate these questions, I plan to collect a network data (specifically a directed graph) using an online Google survey in an undergraduate human development course that I teach. I will ask students in my section of the course about their engagement as well as who they frequently work with. Demographic and network survey items will include:

  • Please provide your gender: _______________________
  • Year in school:
    • Freshman
    • Sophomore
    • Junior
    • Senior
    • Graduate student
  • List the people in this class that you have collaborated with. (Collaboration)
  • List the people in this class that you would study with or go to for help. (Dependency)
  • List the people in this class that you frequently talk with. (Neutral)

Additionally, since engagement is often conceptualized as a multi-dimensional construct including cognitive, affective, behavioral, and social aspects (see Figure 2), I will use the following 4 items to investigate students’ engagement.

  • How true are the following statements of you?
    • I try to connect what I am learning in this class to things I have learned before.
    • I put effort into learning in this course.
    • I look forward to this class.
    • I try to understand other people’s ideas in this class.

Given the lack of research I’ve found investigating the role of social networks in classroom engagement, I think that this will be a contribution to the field in understanding what it is that encourages student engagement.

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