Sociologists in Russia have found that students’ social networks can influence their grades. While sociologists have long recognized a number of factors in how students perform in schools, social networks have long been underestimated. This is partly due to the difficulty of performing studies on the issue, but more importantly due to poorly constructed investigative models for those studies. Two significant problems have plagued this area of research for some time: viewing a random group as a given student’s social network, and assuming that their place within their social network is static.
Both are faulty assumptions that skew data. Social networks are constructed through conscious and dynamic choice as students decide who they want to spend time with. Those networks may be impacted by the randomness of which students are assigned to which classes, but this is not a significant factor.
Actually, the position of a student within a network can, and often does, change over time, depending on any number of outside factors. None of these should seem overly shocking to anyone familiar with the way humans form networks and interact with each other.
The researchers in question found that students who spent time with high-achievers generally did better in their classes over time, while students who were friends with under-achievers tended to suffer. Although academic success is rarely a conscious deciding fact in forming friendships for students, it was found that by the middle of the academic year, members of a peer group tended to perform at around the same level, which could be higher for some and lower for others.
Under-achievers tended to weigh down their fellows more than high-achievers pulled them up, but the later tended to form larger networks over time. They also found that the size of networks varied across gender lines, but that all study participants were more likely to be friends with people they knew before college, students of their own gender, and other members in their study groups.