Christoph Helm

Effects of social learning networks on student academic achievement and pro-social behavior in accounting


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Collaborative learning is characterized by patterns of relationships between learners. Standard practice usually uses rating scale data to assess collaborative learning and ignores its relational characteristics. Thus, in this paper we use social network analysis (SNA) to answer the following questions: Do progressive school reforms lead to more collaborative learning (as indicated by social network metrics)? And if so, do SNA metrics positively predict students’ academic and social competence development? The first question results from the COoperative Open Learning (COOL) concept that is widely used in Austria. The second question is based on cognitive learning theories, which postulate that learning occurs, for instance, when cognitive conflicts arise in a mutual exchange with others and when these are successfully solved, for example, by giving reciprocal explanations. Using data from 504 students in 19 upper secondary commercial school classes in Austria, we performed a series of mean difference tests at the class level and applied multilevel regression models in order to test our hypotheses. The results show that, as hypothesized, COOL classes have more pronounced social network characteristics than traditionally instructed classes. However, contrary to our expectations, only two SNA measures (indegree and reachability) predict students’ cognitive outcomes, whereby indegree has a positive and reachability has a negative effect. Class-level SNA measures (such as density of a learning network) did not reveal as significant predictors of neither accounting nor social competence development. With regard to students’ social competencies, only students’ indegree is weakly but negatively associated with perspective taking skills. This lack of support of our assumptions is discussed in the context of the theory and the COOL concept and against the lack of data on the qualitative nature of the relations between students.

Social network analysis; Collaborative learning; Students’ academic achievement in accounting; Pro-social behavior