From Social Ties to Network Processes: Do Tie Definitions Matter?


The widespread adoption of digital e-learning environments and other learning technology has provided researchers with ready access to large quantities of data. Much of this data comes from discussion forums and has been studied with analytical methods drawn from social network analysis. However, within this large body of research there exists considerable variation in the definition of what constitutes a social tie, and the consequences of this choice are rarely described or examined. This paper presents findings from two distinct learning environments regarding different social tie extraction methods and their influence on the structural and statistical properties of the induced networks, and the association between measures of centrality and academic performance. Our findings indicate that social tie definitions play an important role in shaping the results of our analyses. The primary purpose of this paper is to raise awareness of the consequences that such methodological choices may have, and to promote transparency in future research.

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