Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Social Effects

I picked up a copy of Scientific American's MIND edition for September/October to scour for education references. Here's an interesting bit from an article (pg 26) called "The Social Cure", which is about the positive effects of belonging to social groups:
In [a] study that Jetton and S.A. Haslam recently published in the British Journal of Social Psychology with social psychologists Iyer, Dimitrios Tsivrikos and Tom Pstmes, we monitored first-year university students over a period of four months, beginning two months before they enrolled in school and ending two months after. A key question for us was whether we could predict which individuals were most likely to embrace their new identities as university students. As in our stroke study, one of the best predictors of healthy adjustment was the number of groups that each student had belonged to before starting school. Those who had belonged to more groups in the past had lower levels of depression, even after adjusting for other factors that could influence this transition—including uncertainty about college, the availability of social support, and academic obstacles.
It's not clear, of course, what's a cause and what's an effect. Nevertheless, it lends weight to the idea of keeping a co-curricular transcript for students.

On page 33, another research effort may indicate that too much social networking (think Facebook) may increase, rather than reduce, social isolation. There's something about the bandwidth advantage to face-to-face meetings, perhaps.

Putting all this together hints at a strategy for traditional liberal arts schools, who have the advantage of bandwidth over online schools, and who have small enough student populations to maintain interesting interactions. I think most probably already do a pretty good job of providing a rich selection of social groups to join on campus, but a little extra attention on that (such as creating co-curricular transcripts) might pay off. At least it's something that can be marketed that you can't really get in the same way online. It's hard to imagine intramural ping-pong being the same through an LCD monitor, but maybe that's a bad example.

(image courtesy of Wikipedia, here.)

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