Social Networking in Dormitory

I have to admit that at first I did not intend to write this post this long. I actually just wanted to keep reference myself about Vanden Boogart’s thesis with my reflective idea. However, after finding evidences to support my thought, I found a couple of related papers about social networking in dormitory, which I think interesting and might supplement to his framework.

Matthew Vanden Boogart sent out a link to his master thesis at Kansas State University on Facebook and residence hall via air-l listserv. There are a lot of interesting points to discuss about this fine work, entitled “Uncovering the Social Impacts of Facebook on a College Campus“. He investigates social impacts of Facebook on dorm life by using web-based survey asking on-campus students from four universities: Kansas State University, Samford University, University of Florida, and University of Kansas.

About 95% of them are on Facebook. 32% have their own blogs. The demographics shows that women, students of color, students with lower GPAs, first year undergraduates, and those living in co-ed environment tends to engage on Facebook more frequently. About 30% said they “feel” addicted to Facebook. About 17% of sample spend more than 1 hour a day on Facebook. The study reconfirms the notion that students use Facebook for keeping connected to high school friends and checking what friends are doing rather than making new friends (p. 36) (see also Fred’s study). However, non-heterosexual, students of color, and those who have lower GPAs tend to use Facebook to make social connection that could not find in person more than other groups.

Weak ties

“The average respondent had 145 friends at their institution and 127 friends at other institutions. The range of these responses were as low as 0 and as high as 1800 for one individual”. (p. 32)

I still “wow” by the maximum number of 1800 friends which one could figure out easily that those are primarily weak tie. Also it is not that too hard to have “friends” that many, even they are first year undergraduates as Fred already pointed out.

However, one evidence that would be helpful to support, but does not appear, in his study is the combination between online and physical relationship; whether students maintain neighboring friends on Facebook or not. If so, how? What kinds of activity/interaction they do to maintain the relationship with their dorm neighbors on Facebook? These questions could also portray how SNS facilitate physical relationship (e.g. strengthening weaker social ties).

To do so, one of variables that may need to be controlled is the size of residence halls and campus. The assumptions of the greater role of Facebook on on-campus life could possibly favor the larger unit of social connection, whether larger floor, building, or campus, hypothetically due to the large number of weak ties. Well, that may not be the case. Why?

Micro-localization

The statistical significance indicates the stronger relationship between Facebook use and a participants feeling of connectedness to campus rather than building or floor (p. 55). The study tries to define the different levels of physical context by making the sense of campus residency. By comparing the sense of involvement with friends on the floor, in the same building, and on the same campus, this study seems to look at the local community. And campus, the largest unit, becomes the favorable level of the sense of involvement for Facebook use.

This is an interesting observation especially when look at similar framework, though from different and broader perspective (local vs. global), of Netville study (2002). In the study, Hampton and Wellman compare social interactions between local (<50 km.), mid-range (50-500 km.), and long distance (500+ km.). They found that the Internet does not significantly increase social interaction with long distance ties. Instead, it plays equal role in terms of localization. The weaker social ties of wired Netville members are spread more widely throughout the neighborhood (p. 367).

One of the reasons Hampton and Wellman point ou is the fact that “most North Americans have few strong ties at the neighborhood”. (Note: the original articles includes a bunch of citations) However, this may or may not be the case for residence hall environments.

Physical Social Ties

Looking at the social ties in residence hall research is quite interesting. For instance, in Ouellette‘s master thesis (2004) at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), although he does not directly intended to investigate strength ties of students who lived dormitory, there is one scale measuring tie strength among students in VCU Honor Dorm. On a scale of 1 to 9, the means of tie strengths are about 4.5 to 5, which is considerably moderate. (Note: The paper primarily tests Weiss’s loneliness theory based on the investigation of relationships between different measures of loneliness and social network analysis.)

Research also shows that proximity of domicile influences the attraction pattern (Lundberg, Hertzler, & Dickson, 1949). It may imply that strong tie tends to exist among friends who live in the same residence dorm rather than those who live outside their own dormitory, even in the same year and major. Is this phenomenon still repeated in on-campus these days?

Another example, fun to read!, is a study published in Sociometry in 1953 by Bonney, Hoblit, and Dreyer. This study measures the social ties in dorm in North Texas State College (now University of North Texas) by asking “who you do and don’t want to be your roommate next year?” at the beginning of Fall and Spring semester. They found the high proportion of choices within a dormitory, and even on the same floor indicating the relationship between physical distance and interpersonal attachment (p. 290 – 291). Again, does this pattern still remain today? (Note: I would encourage reading the whole article. Although it is not empirical research, it is quite pleasant to read, especially the Relation between Choices Received on Particular Floors and Other Evidence of Group Cohesion and Morale – p.292-294. Fun!)

Does Facebook interfere academic success?

At the end of his thesis, one of primary concerns is the potential pessimistic perspective from university administration.

Universities argue that Facebook becomes interference on the academic success of college students on campus (p. 57).

This is an important question. Boogart suggests that universities should adapt Facebook and other SNS as tools to improve student’s academic ability. He is right. However, how the universities are going to believe that? Some evidences need to prove. How about inferring from the effectiveness of different kinds of course management system? Well, SNS is not just like webCT or blackboard. The major component of SNS primarily focuses on social aspect of community rather than the implication of educational .

I would think there would be a good amount of related literature in educational psychology, especially examining various factors influencing student’s academic success. One of them definitely includes social networking. I think we all realize how our peers are important in our learning, whether in education system or lifelong learning paradigm. Then one could question whether the size of social ties has relationship with the academic success. Well I have to say I have no idea. It could be positive and negative association. I’m sure that there are many studies dealing with this dichotomy. Also as I mentioned earlier, the controlled variables should be well planned to observe the relationship.

For example, Hall and Willerman (1963) experimentally investigate the influence of roommates on educational activities. The study primarily found out that by comparing between those who living with high academic ability roommates and those who were matched with low students, their perceptions were significantly different. Although the smarter roommates were seen as setting a better example in study, there was no evidence that they in over-all affect on grades. Interestingly enough, the study found unexpected factors which were not experimentally controlled; the extent of course overlap and the birth order between roommates.

Who left out?

I would like to second Vanden Boogart’s idea on expanding the scope covering off-campus students and greek house members. Does they have stronger senses of connectedness/involvement on Facebook? In particular, those who live in fraternity/sorority houses, they seem likely to have stronger ties than those who live in residence halls (Switzer & Taylor, 1983, p.126). It would emphasize on the association of degree of sense of community and the size of physical group which perhaps contribute to the understanding of the combination between physical and online network.

In addition, it would be interesting to compare the sense of connectedness between Facebook users and non-users. This would also help to confirm the role of Facebook in the reinforcement of sense of community, which could contribute to the academic success.

And I’m sure that Fred and some other SNS folks might already have answers for some of these questions.

References:

  • Bonney, M. E., Hoblit, R. E., & Dreyer, A. H. (1953). A study of some factors related to sociometric status in a men’s dormitory. Sociometry, 16(4), 287-301.
  • Hall, R. L.,& Willerman, B. (1963). The educational influence of dormitory roommates. Sociometry, 26(3), 294-318.
  • Hampton, K. N., & Wellman, B. (2002). The not so global village of Netville. In B. Wellman & C. Haythornthwaite (Eds.), The internet in everyday life (pp. 345-371). Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  • Lundberg, G. A., Hertzler, V. B., & Dickson, L. (1949). Attraction patterns in a university. Sociometry, 12(1/3), 158-169. [Note: Available in JSTOR]
  • Ouellette, D. M. (2004). The Social Network and Attachment Bases of Loneliness. Unpublished master’s thesis, Virginia Commonwealth University.
  • Switzer, R., & Taylor, R. B. (1983). Sociability versus privacy of residential choice: Impacts of personality and local social ties. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 4(2), 123-136.
  • Vanden Boogart, M. R. (2006). Uncovering the Social Impacts of Facebook on a College Campus. Unpublished master’s thesis, Kansas State University.

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