A Study of the Relationship between Student Social Networks and Sense of Community

Shane Dawson


As the integration of community-centered teaching practices intensifies, an understanding of the types of relationships that manifest in this network and the associated impact on student learning is required. This paper explores the relationship between a student’s position in a classroom social network and their reported level of sense of community. Quantitative methods, such as Rovai’s (2002b) Classroom Community Scale and social network centrality measures, were incorporated to evaluate an individual’s level of sense of community and their position within the classroom social network. Qualitative methods such as discussion forum content analysis and student interviews were adopted to clarify and further inform this relationship. The results demonstrate that the centrality measures of closeness and degrees are positive predictors of an individual’s reported sense of community whereas, betweenness indicates a negative correlation. Qualitative analyses indicate that an individual’s pre-existing external social network influences the type of support and information exchanges an individual requires and therefore, the degree of sense of community ultimately experienced. The paper concludes by discussing future recommendations for teaching practices incorporating computer-mediated communications.


Social networks, Learning communities, Computer-mediated communication


The author argues that communication within a community is essential for the development of the sense of community, the integration of computer-mediated communication (CMC) being an important factor within that. The author uses two domains to characterize sense of community: locality and the sharing of common interests, both of which refer to the idea that people come together and develop social relationships through closeness or shared interest (p.155). Because CMCs alone won’t secure community, there is a need for lead indicators of community for assessment of community development within the learning environment. (p. 154)

464 students enrolled in 25 teaching units at Queensland University of Technology participated in this quantitative study through online class participation and filling out an online survey that measured students’ degree of sense of community. In order to quantify this, Rovai’s Classroom Community Scale (CCS) was adopted, which included 20 question items, ranked according to a 1-5 Likert scale (strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree and strongly disagree). The findings suggest that those students with higher levels of communication interactions possess stronger levels of sense of community (supports the hypothesis). The author suggests that further research is needed to examine the relationship between student online behaviors and other factors influencing student satisfaction.

This (community) can be a shared location, language, purpose, value system, identity, or behavior. What is essential for the development of a sense of community is communication itself. Computer-mediated communication has become an important factor within that. Dawson has used two domains to characterize community: locality and sharing of common interests, both of which refer to the idea that people come together and develop social relationships through closeness or shared interest.

APA Citation

Dawson, S. (2008). A study of the relationship between student social networks and sense of community. Educational Technology & Society, 11(3), 224–238.

About the Study

Links to Article http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/jeductechsoci.11.3.224.pdf?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
Mode Technology-enhanced, Online
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication Educational Technology & Society
Type of Research Mixed methods
Research Design Mixed methods
Intervention/Areas of Study Learning community, Social presence, Student motivation, Student-student interactions
Level of Analysis Student-level
Specific Populations Examined
Peer-Reviewed Yes
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest 4-year Institution, Doctorate-granting, Public
Specific Course or Program Characteristics Arts and humanities
Outcome Variables of Interest Instructional effectiveness, Satisfaction
Student Sample Size 400-499
Citing Articles https://scholar.google.com/scholar?cites=14306331631443340855&as_sdt=5,50&sciodt=0,50&hl=en