Social Networks and Skills Instruction: A Pilot Study of STEM College Educators and Employers in Wisconsin and New York

WCER Working Paper No. 2018-3

Ross J. Benbow, Changhee Lee, and Matthew T. Hora

January 2018, 17 pp.

ABSTRACT: Research indicates that teamwork, communication, self-directed learning, and problem-solving skills are strongly linked to individual academic and professional success, yet little is known regarding how college educators and employer trainers learn to better teach or train others in these valuable skills in postsecondary and employment STEM contexts. This pilot study uses social network analysis—a research perspective studying relationships or “social ties” to better understand the ways interactions influence behavior—to explore the dimensions of educator and trainer discussions regarding methods for helping students or employees acquire important skills. The study also examines whether educators and employers believe such discussions influence their instruction. A descriptive analysis of data from online surveys collected from educators (n=192) and employers (n=70) in technology and manufacturing fields in southern Wisconsin and western New York indicates respondents frequently engage in such teaching- and training-focused discussions with people inside and outside their colleges and businesses. Though more college educators are involved in such conversations than employers, employer trainers who engage in such conversations do so with individuals affiliated with more diverse organizations. Results also indicate that educators and employers who have these discussions do so at a similar frequency. Finally, most educators and employers with teaching- and training-focused social networks perceive them to be beneficial to their teamwork, communication, self-directed learning, and problem-solving instruction. In light of these findings, leaders hoping to further develop teaching- and training-focused social networks in education and employment fields may find more success in openly promoting the importance of such social ties as well as providing more opportunities for intra- and interorganizational professional development in instruction.

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keywords: social networks, higher education, workforce training, social capital, skills