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Couch, Brock
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Middle Tennessee State University
Since socioscientific issues (SSI) are scientific issues situated in the larger society, it is important for many students to understand and effectively communicate information surrounding them. In-class small groups have been used by science instructors to provide students the opportunity to discuss and negotiate difficult SSI. However, learning about SSI in these small groups can be influenced by numerous factors beyond just the content. Therefore, it is important to gain a greater understanding of how these factors are impacting small group and individual responses to SSI. Because of the interactional nature of small groups, social network analysis (SNA) can be used to capture the structure of interactions between individuals, while also gaining an understanding of the flow of information between individuals. In Chapter One, this dissertation sets out the case for using social network analysis to understand the intersection between SSI and small groups. This dissertation is in an alternative format structure in which Chapters Two through Four are presented as individual manuscripts for publication. Chapter Two presents a systematic literature review that looks at how education research literature is using SNA to understand student discourse. The goal of this review was to better understand how social network methodologies have been applied in education research to highlight the usefulness of SNA in understanding discourse interactions particularly between students in small group settings. This review showed that SNA has only begun to be used to study discourse in education contexts, with the majority of those studies being conducted in online environments. Chapter Three is a cross-sectional survey study that looked at the connection between undergraduates’ acceptance of SSI and the sources they use to gain information on these SSI. From this survey, it was shown that undergraduates differed in their acceptance of various SSI and the sources from which they gathered information about these SSI. When comparing groups derived from cluster analysis, undergraduates indicated that they were using similar information sources, even though they differ on their acceptance of SSI. This may highlight that students are receiving siloed information from their information sources. In Chapter Four, a longitudinal analysis of small-group discussion on SSI was conducted to gain an understanding of how small-group dynamics impact the learning outcomes of group work. This study found that interactions within groups varied across the semester, with groups becoming less collaborative toward the end of the semester. It also found that all groups used supportive statements to move group conversations forward. The contribution of new knowledge to the conversation varied by group and week of the semester.
Biology Education, Group Dynamics, Information Sources, Small Groups, Social Network Analysis, Socioscientific Issues, Science education