Practitioner's guide to social network analysis: Examining physics anxiety in an active-learning setting

TitlePractitioner's guide to social network analysis: Examining physics anxiety in an active-learning setting
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsDou, R, Zwolak, JP

The application of social network analysis (SNA) has recently grown prevalent in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education research. Research on classroom networks has led to greater understandings of student persistence in physics majors, changes in their career-related beliefs (e.g., physics interest), and their academic success. In this paper, we aim to provide a practitioner's guide to carrying out research using SNA, including how to develop data collection instruments, set up protocols for gathering data, as well as identify network methodologies relevant to a wide range of research questions beyond what one might find in a typical primer. We illustrate these techniques using student anxiety data from active-learning physics classrooms. We explore the relationship between students' physics anxiety and the social networks they participate in throughout the course of a semester. We find that students' with greater numbers of outgoing interactions are more likely to experience negative anxiety shifts even while we control for {\it pre} anxiety, gender, and final course grade. We also explore the evolution of student networks and find that the second half of the semester is a critical period for participating in interactions associated with decreased physics anxiety. Our study further supports the benefits of dynamic group formation strategies that give students an opportunity to interact with as many peers as possible throughout a semester. To complement our guide to SNA in education research, we also provide a set of tools for letting other researchers use this approach in their work -- the {\it SNA toolbox} -- that can be accessed on GitHub.