Year of Publication

2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Education

Department

Educational Policy Studies and Eval

First Advisor

Dr. Jane Jensen

Abstract

This study was designed to explore the possible connections between student peer relationships and individual students’ roles in a network as it pertained to outcomes such as self-reported academic achievement and personal satisfaction with the first year of college. The research question directing this inquiry is: How does a student’s role within a residential community of peers relate to success in college? Social network analysis was employed for examination of individual engagement within the context of a larger community.

The vast learning community literature tells an interesting story: 1.) a history of co-curricular peer learning environments, 2) a tradition of research intended to assess the value of these programs, 3) a body of literature that provides theoretical explanations for why learning communities should work. The gap in the literature is found regarding what happens within the communities. To learn how individuals within community learn from one another, community of practice was utilized as a framework in this mixed-methods approach to examine the influence of relationships, and exchange, acquisition, & development of social capital within a living learning community

While this network study indicated that popularity, relational ties to staff, and being someone sought-after for advice were not statistically significant predictors of higher GPA, the network analyses confirmed strong network density, cohesion, and proper structure for ideal capital flow. The results of this study confirm that this community is effective in establishing familiarity and even more so, providing an environment that fosters friendships among participants and staff. Furthermore, students developed the ability to construct knowledge alongside their peers. Given the density and relation-rich nature of this community, this positive environment is able to foster more complex and self-authored levels of meaning-making for the students involved. Building this scaffolding facilitated student development, which effectively created a student transformation from dependence on external authority to self-authorship. This study confirmed that the primary goals of a learning community have been met: a group of strangers developed into a network of friends who reap social and academic benefits by virtue of being together in a shared and successful living learning community environment.

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