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Social Network Analysis and Education: Theory, Methods & Applications

reviewed by Kira Baker-Doyle - January 12, 2016

coverTitle: Social Network Analysis and Education: Theory, Methods & Applications
Author(s): Brian V. Carolan
Publisher: Sage Publishing, Thousand Oaks
ISBN: 1412999472, Pages: 344, Year: 2013
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Educational research methods and the ontologies that inform them have shifted over time alongside changes in approaches to schooling. Since the 2000s, the third wave of educational reform has emphasized whole-school transformation involving community partnerships and professional collaboration. Many educational researchers now seek to analyze complex social systems of stakeholders interacting within school communities. One methodology that has become increasingly popular in studying social relationships in educational contexts is social network analysis (SNA). Brian Carolan’s book, Social Network Analysis and Education: Theory, Methods, and Applications, is an indispensible resource for educational scholars who are interested in incorporating SNA methods into their research designs.

There are few methods texts available that bridge the divide between educational research and broader sociological research on social networks. SNA can be daunting to learn, particularly for educational researchers. Carolan explains that most educational quantitative research considers individual characteristics and actions to be independent, yet SNA considers characteristics and actions to be socially interdependent. As a result, approaches to both descriptive and predictive statistical calculation in SNA are significantly more complicated than the quantitative research methods most educational researchers are familiar with. Carolan clearly and articulately translates SNA into the language and context of mainstream education research in an effective manner. His supportive tone makes the methodological leap seem less intimidating than it would be otherwise.

Social Network Analysis and Education includes several features that provide strong scaffolding for understanding SNA’s complexities. First, it is organized as a textbook with chapters that can be easily incorporated into a 15 week class structure, and is complete with summaries, follow-up questions, and suggested activities and resources.1 Second, Carolan provides a comprehensive description of the history of SNA within educational research circles and beyond. Third, the book’s data and examples are drawn from well-known SNA educational studies and the author’s own work; this grounds the text and provides connections to existing research. Finally, it provides additional online resources and data sets for further exploration.

While the structure and in-depth examples provide a clear pathway for understanding design strategies, analysis tools, and theories associated with SNA, Carolan’s voice was also a significant factor in engaging attention and connection to the text. His personal stories, reflections, and description of the importance of SNA reflect a passion and sincerity for his work. Carolan writes, “much care has been taken to gently guide you” in the introduction (p. 18)—he certainly stays true to his mission.

Carolan’s perspective on educational research is rooted in sociology, and the book’s primary focus is explaining SNA’s methodology and research techniques within this disciplinary framework. This emphasis is reflected in the organization of the text—it begins with technique, moves from simple concepts such as ties and actors, shifts to more challenging statistical analysis, and concludes with theory. This organization is important because it seems to be a reversal of what one might normally expect in a textbook—theory followed by technique—and some instructors may rearrange the order in which the chapters are taught depending on their preferred teaching style.

There are several concepts and techniques in SNA that are still evolving including social capital, predictive statistical modeling, and mixed-methods research. Both social capital and predictive modeling are described with great detail and attention to the development of the field. However, as a scholar who uses mixed methods approaches to studying social networks, I yearned for more discussion on effectively integrating quantitative SNA methods with qualitative approaches to researching networks. This topic requires significant theoretical and practical discussion. Perhaps I am asking for a second volume, which would be a welcome addition to the first.

It is clear that Carolan wrote Social Network Analysis and Education to promote a paradigm shift in our thinking regarding the roles of relationships in educational outcomes—he challenges educational researchers to uncover the ways in which relationships shape thoughts, experiences, and actions. I predict this book will be in the frequently used methods section of many scholars’ bookshelves. If this becomes the case, the paradigm shift will not be far behind.


1. The book is written primarily for education scholars or graduate students who already have some background in basic statistics.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 12, 2016
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 19306, Date Accessed: 1/28/2022 2:43:18 AM

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About the Author
  • Kira Baker-Doyle
    Arcadia University
    E-mail Author
    KRIA J. BAKER-DOYLE is an Assistant Professor of Education at Arcadia University School of Education. She is the author of The Networked Teacher: How New Teachers Build Social Networks for Professional Support (Teachers College Press, 2011) and a forthcoming book with Harvard Education Press about teachers that use connected technologies to organize for educational equity and change. At Arcadia, she is the founder and director of the Connected Learning graduate program.
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