Tagged: W23A14

Week 23 – Activity 14: Visualising social networks

Timing: 4 hours

Part 1

  • Read this short paper that provides an introduction to social network visualisations and to the SNAPP tool:
  • In your learning journal, or blog, make a note of the things that can be revealed by a network diagram of students’ discussions. The authors identify six – you may be able to think of more.
  • Use these as headings and, under each one, note how this information could be used to support learning and/or teaching in a group.
  • Also note any potential problems, and how these might be addressed.

Part 2

The figures in this paper show some typical visualisations of forum discussions. The paper discusses what these reveal about the discussions.

  • Try creating your own social network diagram. Take a recent thread in the tutor group forum, which includes six or more postings, and sketch it as a network diagram. Note who appears to be central to the discussion.
  • Now take another discussion thread and add it to the same diagram. Drawing by hand, you probably won’t be able to include any further threads in your diagram, unless they are very short.
  • Reflect on what is represented in this diagram and on what is missing.
    1. Does the diagram change your understanding of the tutor group and of your role within it?
    2. Could you use this diagram to make recommendations that might improve learning in the forum or would you need more information?
    3. In what ways is the diagram misleading?
  • Share your conclusions in the forum. If possible, add a scan or a photograph of your network diagram.
  • Discuss situations in your local educational environment, or in one you know well, in which a social network diagram might be used to improve learning and/or teaching.

Answers:

What can be revealed by a network diagram of students’ discussions:

  • identify disconnected (at risk) students;

SS who do not interact with forums, especially on key topics, could be contacted individually.

  • (continuation from above) monitor lone students

Students who are not receiving interaction from others could be at risk of feeling excluded, and as research has shown (in Dawson et al. ,2010), tend to have higher attrition rates, and also evaluation courses/tutors poorly.

  • identify key information brokers within a class;

Comparing a key information broker’s grades with his/her contributions could be valuable, as he/she could be sharing information that is not accurate if it goes unchallenged. A tutor might need to reply directly to him/her in threads to mediate the discussion.

Furthermore, as from Dawson et al. (2010), we can identify if a ‘waggon wheel’ type discussion is occurring, and evaluate if this is desirable given the timing of the discussion (early discussions in a course tend to take this formation, but it is less desirable generally).

  • identify potentially high and low performing students so teachers can better plan learning interventions;

Tutors/teachers needn’t intervene with high performing students, saving them time to focus on students who do not engage with forum activity.

  • indicate the extent to which a learning community is developing within a class;

Courses normally aim for a class to grow closer together and feel more comfortable with sharing ideas as it progresses. Using SNAPP a tutor could monitor if this is indeed occurring. If not, an intervention to prop up the discussion might help, and forums can be further monitored to see the effect.

  • provide a “before and after” snapshot of the various interactions occurring pre and post learning interventions. (This diagrammatic representation is also a useful indicator of reflective teaching practice e.g. through integration with teaching portfolio artefacts);

Similar to above, though a tutor could also monitor if all interventions were positive or negative, and learn from such. For example, tutor involvement can also result in breaking up a discussion as some students shy away.

  • monitor individual student contributions

A tutor could monitor a particular student’s interactions over time. These could be combined with course grades. If their is an effect such as grades lowering that coincides with lower engagement, the tutor could point out such to the student.

Diagram:

IMG_0251.jpg

  1. Does the diagram change your understanding of the tutor group and of your role within it?
    • Slightly. It shows the layout of the discussion as being more evenly spread than what appeared when looking only at the forum. I feel as though the indentation in the forums made my mind think of those with direct replies as carrying more clout than replies. This should not be the case, which the diagram represents.
    • In both cases, A was the initiator of the discussion, however it is evident that both G and K had equally important roles in the discussion.
  2. Could you use this diagram to make recommendations that might improve learning in the forum or would you need more information?
    • It could do, though the context of the discussion is important. In the case of the two threads used, they were both suggestions from A for group projects. As such, seeing two spinoff discussions but generally a good trend where discussion came back to the thread starter is a positive sign. However, if the purpose of the thread was for general discussion, we might wish to have seen a wider spread in communication between, for example K and G.
  3. In what ways is the diagram misleading?
    • The diagram doesn’t accurately portray the purpose of the thread. This is fundamental to interpreting the discussion.
    • P’s role was only an intervention, not a contribution to encourage more participation.

– Discuss situations in your local educational environment, or in one you know well, in which a social network diagram might be used to improve learning and/or teaching.

  • Evaluation meetings
  • General team meetings
  • Email and communication later communication adherence.