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October 12, 2018

How peer / friendship groups form, and their effect on engagement and attainment






Strand Student attainment
Type Ignite
Learning Objective(s) 1) To identify factors that lead to peer / friendship group formation
2) Investigate in what way group formation influences attainment and / or engagement
3) Discuss if academics should seek to influence group formation
Peer groups have a strong influence on student attainment and the wider educational experience. Here we directly investigate the drivers for group formation within first year students undertaking a bioscience program of study. This work builds on a recent study by Smith et al., that demonstrates student interactions within the taught environment, is in part, dependant on pre-existing friendship groups. Worryingly, there was evidence of “low-attainment” where all members of a friendship/peer group performed below average. This has led to the concern that misunderstanding or self-validation of incorrect ideas can occur and be propagated through the group. Conversely, peer-peer interactions are known to positively influence overall academic development, knowledge acquisition, analytical and problem-solving skills, alongside self-esteem (Antonio, 2004; Kuh, Kinzie, Buckley, Bridges, & Hayek, 2006; Winston & Zimmerman, 2003; Zimmerman, 2003). Thus, understanding how these low-attainment friendship groups form is critical to increasing attainment.This study used a questionnaire based approach to determine; those students who choose to work together within laboratory sessions, the reasons they work together, and what level of friendships and course identity they have.

These responses were then used to identify student friendship groups and the attainment of the students within those groups. In addition, thematic analysis was performed to determine the influencing factor of group formation, particularly for these low-attainment groups.

The study showed that over 90% had an individual laboratory partner that they worked with either always or most of the time, indicating that students develop firm study groups within the teaching environment. Students stating a strong course identify always had the same lab partner and that they know most people in their laboratory group. Further analysis will probe the relationship between these groups, how they formed and putative links to attainment and engagement.

References Antonio, A. L. (2004). The influence of friendship groups on intellectual self-confidence and educational aspirations in college. The Journal of Higher Education, 75(4), 446-471. doi:10.1080/00221546.2004.11772267Kuh, G. D., Kinzie, J., Buckley, J. A., Bridges, B. K., & Hayek, J. C. (2006). What matters to student success: A review of the literature. Commissioned report for the National Symposium on Postsecondary Student Success: Spearheading a Dialog on Student Success.: Washington, DC : National Postsecondary Education Cooperative.

Smith, D. P., Hoare, A., & Lacey, M. (2018) Who goes where? The importance of peer groups and social interactions in use of the lecture theatre teaching space. FEBS Open Bio (under review)

Winston, G. C., & Zimmerman, D. J. (2003). Peer effects in higher education. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper Series, No. 9501 doi:10.3386/w9501

Zimmerman, D. J. (2003). Peer effects in academic outcomes: Evidence from a natural experiment. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 85(1), 9-23. doi:10.1162/003465303762687677