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The Tipping Point

Posted By: gary daynes on October 30, 2003
I have used the idea of connectors, mavens, and salesmen to try to understand the culture of student learning in large classes.

My colleagues and I surmised that all classes have a student learning culture--a set of relationships and practices that students use to understand course material. As the size of a class increases, faculty members are less able to know all students personally, and thus they have less influence over the learning culture of their students. We wondered if, when faculty members have a relatively weak influence on learning culture, certain types of students might have stronger influences. If Gladwell is right, and it takes certain social types--mavens, connectors, and salesmen--to "tip" social epidemics, and you think of learning as epidemic-like, then the presence of those types in a class might give some insight into the structure and power of the class' learning culture.

To see which students filled which roles we administered a brief survey at about 2 weeks and 7 weeks into an 8-week term. On the survey we asked students to name who they studied with, who they wished to study with, who they socialized with, who they wished to socialize with, and who they would go to if they were in need. (Since the class was made up of freshmen living on campus we also asked them who they lived with to see if there was some overlap between living arrangements and learning.) We fed the results into a piece of software that produces sociograms (visual representations of social relationships).

We are still looking at the second survey and comparing the two results, but we found that there were several students who were "connectors"--that is, they were students who connected groups of other students. There were also students, those who were listed frequently in response to the question "who do you wish to study with", who we began to think of as mavens.

Because the course was very brief--only 8 weeks--we did not use this information to try to influence learning culture in that particular class. But Gladwell would suggest that the best way to get a learning epidemic to start would be to present information in a way that appeals to mavens and make sure that mavens are together with connectors and salesmen. We may use these categories in the future as the basis of study groups.

I would be interested in continuing this conversation. You can reach me at gdaynes@byu.edu

gary daynes
Associate Director
Freshman Academy
Brigham Young University
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 The tipping Point by Bruce Rosenbloom on October 1, 2003
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