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A social network study of the growth of community among distance learners

Author(s): Caroline Haythornthwaite

Journal: Information Research: an international electronic journal
ISSN 1368-1613

Volume: 4;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 49;
Date: 1998;
Original page

Keywords: social networks | community | Internet | information resources | distance learning | LEEP | MLS | library science | librarianship | information science | computer technology | interaction | emotional support | Web-board | chat lines | e-mail | email | telephone | face-to-face communication | communication | interviews | course evaluation | questionnaires | information exchange | centrality | isolation | performance | satisfaction

Describes preliminary results from a social network study of the growth of community and use of Internet resources among a class of 15 distance learners enrolled in the LEEP option of the Master of Science in Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The LEEP programme offers a distance option for students with instruction delivered through communication and computer technologies, and through short, intensive on-campus meetings. Class members reported on their interactions with others in the class at three times over the 15 week term (Fall 1997). They indicated how often they had (1) worked with each other member on class work, (2) received or (3) given information or advice about class work, (4) socialized, and (5) exchanged emotional support (either given or received) during the preceeding month. For each question, class members reported their frequency of communication via each of the available means of communication (Web-board, chat lines, email, telephone, face-to-face). Final interviews, and course evaluation questionnaires provide further information about their class experience. These data allow examination of the role of different types of information exchange in the distance learners' intra-class interactions. By using a social network approach, the data allow examination of issues of centrality and isolation in this network that may correlate with performance or satisfaction measures. Results from this study will provide feedback to course instructors on the experience of class participants in the distance education programme.
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