By Judy Beenhakker, Senior Research Coordinator with Youth-Nex.
Slides and audio of the talk can be found here.
Rob Cross, professor of management at the U.Va. McIntire School of Commerce and Research Director of the Network Roundtable, gave a talk entitled “Applying Social Network Analysis to High School Students” at the October Works in Progress Meeting. His current work is primarily centered in the corporate world, examining social networks to gather insight on success or failure of a company. Using software that enlists mathematical algorithms to make predictions and summaries, survey-based data from company employees is analyzed and evaluated.
Two types of networks can be assessed through surveys: bounded or egocentric. The bounded network, or whole network, requires that a network be defined. For example, a network could be a group of people who work together, or a core function of a company, and then the individual provides information about their relationship with all the individuals within that network. The egocentric network approach, or individual network, is unlimited in that it allows the informant to name anyone within their own social network (for example, a family member, coworker, or friend) when responding to questions about a specific function or task. They differ in their yield in that individual networks are more difficult to create network maps that overlap between individuals. The bounded network approach provides a more cohesive network, but does not account for all the connections an individual has since it is delineated. Therefore, using both types of networks provides more comprehensive information.
Cross defined four areas that are of particular interest in a network:
1) Information flow- who people learn from
2) Social influences- whose opinion of the individual matters to them (not necessarily the same as those they learn from)
3) Authenticity- the extent to which the individual feels like they can “be themselves” with another individual
4) Dislike or intimidation- whether the individual is disliked by, or intimidates, the responder
These constructs play into how the network functions, and are of great importance when analyzing how a company works. Cross explained that it is also important to examine the quality and directionality of the relationships between individuals within the network, since they can be positive or negative, as well as examine anyone who might end up as an outlier on the fringes of the network. The structure of a network can be facilitated or obstructed by these issues.
Cross opened up discussion among the attendees, to see how educators might use the information on social networks to garner information within their classrooms. He explained that in applying this social network analysis to high school students, a bounded network would limit the individual to choosing among classmates and teachers as influences, while an egocentric network would expand potential influences to those outside the school environment. Both offer information on positive and negative influences that might define educational success. Information such as who the opinion leaders are within a class, who is loosely connected within the network, and whether there are subgroups within the network that are not conducive to the learning environment can be examined with a sufficient network picture. Effectively using these networks within schools can provide information on what the environment is for students, and can help determine what factors may facilitate or hinder learning. Additionally, it is interesting to see how educators’ opinions on the students’ social network differs from the students’ opinions. Being able to bridge that gap of differences, and elucidate the misconceptions that may go both ways would likely be helpful in increasing academic success of high school students