Science-- there's something for everyone

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The most successful college students form social networks

While almost everyone today is connected to other people via the internet, some people make far greater use of these tools than others. Luis Vaquero of Hewlett-Packard Laboratories, Bristol and Manuel Cebrian of the University of California at San Diego and NICTA, Melbourne were interested in how college students interact with one another online and how this affects their success in school. To that end, they studied how much students communicated with one another and under what circumstances. I doubt you’ll be surprised to hear that the best students formed the most complex social networks.

All in all, the researchers followed 290 students through some 80,000 interactions. You can see a sample classroom below.

Click Here for a HighResolution Version
Scientific Reports, 3 DOI: 10.1038/srep01174.

The squares each represent one of the 82 students in the class, and the lines represent the interactions between those students. The most persistent interactions are shown as thick blue lines and more transient interactions as dotted grey lines. The highest performing students are represented as dark blue, mid-performers as red and low-performers as green squares.

As you can see, there is a strong correlation between the number and persistence of interactions with fellow students and success in the classroom. The highest performing students formed the most persistent interactions with each other. While low-performing students would initiate contact with mid or high-performers, those students often did not reciprocate. In addition, although all students make some attempt at contact with their cohorts during the first few weeks of each semester, low-performing students quickly stopped interacting with their peers. In contrast, the high and mid performers peek in interactions by week four and maintain a high level of contact for the rest of the semester.

The authors are quick to point out that the students were not trying to be exclusionary. It’s just that the best students tend to identify one another rather quickly at the beginning of each course and find that it’s to their mutual benefit to maintain contact. Vaquero and Cebrian refer to this collaborative relationship as a ‘rich-club’ and suggest that college students who want to do well try to get into one. 

Vaquero, L., & Cebrian, M. (2013). The rich club phenomenon in the classroom Scientific Reports, 3 DOI: 10.1038/srep01174.