Two engineering student researchers at Utah State University are using student social networks to better understand how relationships impact the success of undergraduate engineering students.
Engineering education graduate student Jack Elliott and undergraduate engineering student Adam Weaver are working to link student social networks to student performance and retention.
To do this, Weaver and Elliott sent a survey asking all freshman and sophomore engineering students to list everyone they interact with for schoolwork purposes. From the results of the survey, Elliott and Weaver created a matrix that represents the connections.
Using the matrix, they can perform statistical analysis to identify positive peer interaction attributes. This work is ongoing and the survey sent in 2021 is the beginning of a four-semester project.
An essential part of creating the matrix is identifying the different names people may use to refer to the same connection. For instance, a student may misspell the name of a connection, use only a first name, or use only the screen name for someone they interact with virtually.
“It’s important to get an accurate network,” Weaver said. “To do so, we need to get accurate data beforehand.”
Weaver is working on the disambiguation of the network. It took him about six months to manually go through the initial survey results and consolidate people. This process is unsustainable for the scope of the research, which is why he is working to develop a code that could perform the necessary disambiguation.
Weaver presented the work he has done on this so far at the Fall Student Research Symposium last month and said it was valuable to explain his work to others and receive their feedback.
“I enjoyed explaining the whole process to people,” he said.
According to Weaver, he and Elliott anticipate as they continue their work and the matrix is further developed they will see student networks morph and become tighter.
“What we're expecting to see is that students who rely on two to five other students who they can trust and where interaction is reciprocated — these strong, tight networks — that will end up helping them the most,” he said.
The survey is still open for student participation. Sophomore and freshmen engineering students who have not taken the survey and would like to can find it in their Canvas announcements.