Observing the Evolution of a Learning Community Using Social Network Analysis

Observing the Evolution of a Learning Community Using Social Network Analysis

Francesca Grippa (University of Salento, Italy), Marco De Maggio (University of Salento, Italy) and Angelo Corallo (University of Salento, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-444-4.ch012


During the last decades, social and computer scientists have been focusing their efforts to study the effectiveness of collaboration in both working and learning environments. The main contributions clearly identify the importance of interactivity as the determinant of positive performances in learning communities where the supportive dimension of exchanges is balanced by the interactive one. In this chapter, authors describe a method based on social network metrics to recognize the stages of development of learning communities. The authors found that the evolution of social network metrics - such as density, betweenness centrality, contribution index, core/periphery structure – matched the formal stages of community development, with a clear identification of the forming, norming, and storming phases.
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Literature Background

The literature background is focused on the areas of community structure, team dynamics, and online community development. The reason for this broad perspective is the hybrid role of many learning communities today, where students connect to each other with the goal of acquiring new knowledge, skills and competencies through their involvement in real projects. The members of these learning communities work in teams, collaborating with other students and reaching out to external actors. The case discussed in this chapter is an example of learning community working as an extended team. Their approach to learning is project-based as it focuses mostly on a production model: students start by defining end-product, identify their audience, research the topic, design the product, do the project management, solve the problems that arise and finish the product followed by a self-evaluation and critical reflection. As students work on projects, they interact through digital media such as email, forums, wiki and blogs. By doing so, these learning communities configure themselves as online communities.

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