The Impact of Cognitive Style on Social Networks in Online Discussions

ABSTRACT

With the rise of e-Learning in engineering education, understanding the impact of individual differences on the ways students communicate and collaborate on-line has become increasingly important. The research described here investigates the influence of cognitive style on the interactions within student social networks in an on-line learning environment, with a particular focus on student engagement, patterns of communication, and the self-directed creation of sub-groups (i.e., cliques). The Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (KAI) was used to assess cognitive style, and UCINET software was used to analyze the interactions of two cohorts of Systems Engineering students throughout a series of asynchronous on-line discussion forums across two graduate-level courses. Among the findings, the highly heterogeneous style composition of the cliques formed by the students suggests that e-Learning environments may mask cognitive differences that have been shown to create conflict in face-to-face student interactions. Links between cognitive style, expansiveness, influence, leadership, and students’ choices between resident and on-line programs are also discussed.
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Kathryn Jablokow Engineering Division, School of Graduate Professional Studies Penn State University—Great Valley Malvern, PA

Kathryn Jablokow
Engineering Division,
School of Graduate Professional Studies
Penn State University—Great Valley
Malvern, PA

Pamela Vercellone-Smith Engineering Division, School of Graduate Professional Studies Penn State University—Great Valley Malvern, PA

Pamela Vercellone-Smith
Engineering Division,
School of Graduate Professional Studies
Penn State University—Great Valley
Malvern, PA

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