Social capital from online discussion forums: Differences between online and blended modes of delivery

  • Charles Carceller School of Education, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Wollongong
  • Shane Dawson Learning and Teaching Unit, University of South Australia
  • Lori Lockyer School of Education, Faculty of Human Sciences, Macquarie University
Keywords: Online Discussion Forum, Academic Achievement, Social Network, Social Capital, Social Network Analysis, Online Learning, Blended Learning, Higher education


This study explored the concept of social capital in higher education contexts by investigating student discussion forum activity and academic performance. To address these aims online discussion forum logs, student marks and teaching delivery method (blended or fully online) data were extracted from the universities learning management system (LMS). Student social network centrality measures were then calculated from the course discussion activity and correlated against student academic performance for each delivery mode. Drawing on social capital and social network theories the analyses identified that in comparison to low performing students the high-performing group held more central positions in their networks and tended to establish dense social connections with students of a similar academic ability. It was also observed that the relationships formed in blended teaching units were of a greater intensity and reciprocity than those established in fully online teaching units indicating a higher level of social capital was reached. This difference in the amount of available social capital between the two teaching modes suggests that students in blended units have comparatively greater access to resources embedded within the network, which in turn can be mobilised to assist them in their academic endeavours.


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Author Biographies

Charles Carceller, School of Education, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Wollongong
Charles Carceller has worked in the field of adult education for over 20 years. He holds a Master of Education (Information Technology in Education and Training) and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Wollongong, focusing on the role social capital plays in student’s academic achievement in higher education.
Shane Dawson, Learning and Teaching Unit, University of South Australia
Dr. Shane Dawson is the Deputy Director of the Learning and Teaching Unit, and Associate Professor of Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of South Australia. His research activities focus on learning analytics and social networks to inform teaching and learning theory and practice. Shane’s research has demonstrated the use of learner interaction and network data to provide lead indicators of student sense of community, academic success and course satisfaction. He is a co-founder and executive member of the Society for Learning Analytics research and co-chair of the 2012 Learning Analytics and Knowledge conference in Vancouver, Canada.
Lori Lockyer, School of Education, Faculty of Human Sciences, Macquarie University

Lori Lockyer is the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation Chair in Teacher Education and Head of the School of Education at Macquarie University in Australia. Her research focuses on learning design, teacher design thinking and practices, and the use of information and communication technology to support learning in K-12 education, professional education, and health education.