Academic journal article Journal for Educational Research Online

Effects of Social Learning Networks on Student Academic Achievement and Pro-Social Behavior in Accounting

Academic journal article Journal for Educational Research Online

Effects of Social Learning Networks on Student Academic Achievement and Pro-Social Behavior in Accounting

Article excerpt

1.Introduction

There is no doubt that the ability to collaborate and to work in teams is among the core skills needed today and in future. Employers as well as current educational discussions on competence orientation thus call for (a) students and graduates who possess collaborative learning1 competencies and (b) educational instructions that foster these competencies. Furthermore, it is not only the professional environment that requires collaboration skills. There is also need for collaboration in an individual's development: Learning theories (like Bandura's (1977) Social Learning Theory) postulate that an individual's cognitive and social development is nurtured by his/her own behavioral or cognitive attributes but also by interaction with significant others or more specifi c, by his/her social environment. Consequently, collaborative learning is a key method for developing students' academic achievement and pro-social behavior, and can be considered a fundamental part of learning in general (Slavin, 1995; Johnson, Maruyama, Johnson, Nelson, & Skon, 1981). Given the importance of collaborative skills, actors in educational systems, such as policy makers, school leaders and teachers, are required to provide students with learning opportunities that demand and foster collaborative skills. Cooperative Open Learning (COOL) - an innovation that was introduced by Neuhauser and Wittwer to upper secondary vocational schools (BMHS) in Austria in 1996 - presents such an opportunity. One central aim of COOL is to promote students' capacities to participate in collaborative learning in order to improve their academic and social competencies. The present paper aims to evaluate the extent to which this goal has been achieved. Therefore, we ask the following question: To what extent does collaborative learning lead to greater academic achievements and more pro-social behavior? In answering this central question, we follow a well-known sociological approach in the context of innovative educational research: We use quantitative social network analysis (SNA) to calculate measures that are linked to students' learning progress and pro-social behavior. More specific, we analyze class and student-level SNA measures such as a class network's density, centrality and transitivity as well as students' in- and outdegree. Whilst the former indicate the connectedness, hierarchy and clustering of students within a class, the latter indicate the popularity and willingness to cooperate of each student. Published studies of collaborative learning have so far assessed in-class collaboration by means of self-rated scales, classroom or video observations and/or experimental designs (c.f., Gillies, 2004; Hänze & Berger, 2007; Hijzen, Boekaerts, & Vedder, 2007; Krause, Stark, & Mandl, 2009; Oortwijn, Boekaerts, Vedder, & Strijbos, 2008; Shachar & Fischer, 2004; Tolmie et al., 2010). Social network analysis offers an alternative approach that is better suited to analyzing relational data such as social interactions or social learning (transfer of knowledge) (Carolan, 2013, pp. 11, 15):

Whether you are interested in the influence of a school's social structure on an individual actor's achievement, or whether certain opinion leaders are critical to the adoption of a reform initiative, social network analysis operationalizes these patterns of relationships in terms of networks and ties among actors. This perspective differs significantly form the ways in which individual or group behaviour is typically conceptualized and modeled in conventional educational research. Standard practice usually ignores relational information. ... Educational research typically treats learning as an individual outcome, ignoring the messy relational processes through which you form an opinion or an understanding on a topic of interest.

Hence, from a methodological point of view, this paper follows the SNA approach. We build upon the constructivist (Piaget, 1985) and socio-cultural learning theories (Vygotskij, 1986). …

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