How To Predict Students’ Success: Find Out Who Their Friends Are

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Researchers at an Israeli university, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, have developed a novel method to predict how well or badly a students will perform in an academic course: figuring out who their friends are. ScienceDaily reports:

“The researchers analyzed data from a BGU course that included assignments submitted online and Web site logs (containing 10,759 entries) to construct social networks of explicit and implicit cooperation among the students. The implicit connections are used to model all the social interactions that happened ‘offline’ among the students: e-mails with questions, conversations in the lab while preparing the assignments, and even course forums.

‘These connections were very important, as we sought to model the social interactions within the student body,’ explains co-author Michael Fire.

In addition to analyzing the online submissions of the students who had to work in pairs or in groups, they also tracked login time and computer usage. For instance, if two students submitted their assignments from the same computer, it was a likely indication that the two had worked together to complete the assignment. If two students submitted assignments from different computers, but one right after the other on more than one occasion, the authors gave a value to that data, as well.

The researchers found that students with high grades tended to work and socialize together. Students with lower grades tended to interact with other low-scoring pupuls

‘One explanation for what we discovered is that your friends influence your grade in the course, so, if you pick your friends well, then you will get a higher grade,” Fire says. “Alternatively, social networks in courses offer conditions whereby good students will pair with other good students, and similarly weaker ones will pair with weaker students.’” (Read more here.)

Which direction do you think the influence flows? Do smart students seek each other out, or does hanging around with smart people make you smarter? Or does the influence travel both ways?

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3 Responses to “How To Predict Students’ Success: Find Out Who Their Friends Are”

  1. I believe there is definitely causality in the direction of your friends influencing you, in accordance with the folklore “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with”, and with even older folklore in which parents all over the world worry about who their kids hang out with.

    By the way, I object to the phrase “smart students”. “Students who perform well” is the objective description. Having seen people transition from doing well at something to doing poorly and vice versa (and having been one at both), I object to the implication of a rigidly fixed capacity.

  2. Igor says:

    Friends do not influence grades … There is a correlation between friends’ grades. It is natural that people seek friends with similar ‘parameters’ … Beautiful seeks beautiful, smart seeks smart, dumb ends up with dumb. You can pick friends, but they also need to pick you … If you do not have the ‘parameters’ to belong to the group you will not be picked and your grades will of course not ‘correlate’ … Maybe inversely :)

    Freakonomics parenting argument extended to friends …
    Parenting argument: it is not what you do as a parent but who you are that will define your kids
    Friends argument: it is not who you pick as a friend but who you are that will define a group of friends … And therefore your grades

  3. I think it’s both. As a teacher, I saw that the smart kids definitely chose other smart kids as friends. But also the things they’d do together tended to contribute to them being even smarter. For instance, a lot of the smart kids in middle school read a lot; they tend to be friends with friends who also read a lot, and they create little communities of readers, who exchange and talk about books and watch movies about those books together.
    I’m also a doctoral student doing a study of high-achieving urban kids. They began high school with friendship networks of already smart kids. But the social and academic support they received from their friends definitely contributed to their ability to make good choices in school and in their neighborhoods.

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