Study finds classroom study groups more effective when organized by social networks

LOS ANGELES, CA - When it comes to organizing students into classroom study groups, the most commonly used method may not be the most educationally effective way for pupils to learn their lessons, according to a study by researchers at the Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.

The study compared three ways of organizing study groups and assigning student leaders to them to deliver a smoking prevention program. The most effective groups, according to the study in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health, were those organized by a method using social networking data: Each student was assigned to work with a peer group leader he or she had personally nominated.

The method most commonly used in U.S. classrooms -- in which students are randomly assigned to student leaders elected by the entire classroom -- was shown to be less effective for teaching health promotion. Also less effective was a third method in which the teacher both selected the leaders and assigned the students.

This is one of the first studies to demonstrate the use of social network data to design a health promotion intervention, and it points to the possibility of using the network model in a variety of settings.

"Most school-based tobacco prevention programs are based on a social influences model," says Thomas W. Valente, Ph.D., associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the study's lead author, "but they haven't been structured to take full advantage of the possible positive aspects of peer influence. Previous studies have suggested that peer leaders are important components to health promotion programs; this is the first study to evaluate how these leaders should be assigned to groups."

The study was designed to test the effectiveness of the network method for identifying peer opinion leaders and constructing stu

Contact: Jeff Baskin
University of Southern California

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