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Networks and Education

Instructors: Alan Daly and Joe Ferrare

Social network theory and analysis take as the starting point the principle that social phenomena are created primarily, and most importantly, by relations and the constellation of interactions they form over networks. This principle is especially salient for researchers interested in moving beyond individualistic or attribute-based explanations and towards those that bridge theory and empirical reality in a variety of sectors. This web of social relationships is believed to impact a wide variety of outcomes that are of interest to educational researchers, such as educational change, teacher professional communities, school and district redesign, teachers’ adoption of new teaching practices and technology, and peer influences among students. While diverse in focus, these studies share the idea that individuals both influence and are influenced by their relationships with others.

Social networks, therefore, are a fundamental facet of all educational practices, including teaching, learning, leadership, and policymaking. That is, the work of education is ultimately about the broader “people systems” in which individuals interact and go about the task of educating and becoming citizens, contributors, leaders and innovators. In this workshop we focus on how social network theory and analysis can provide analytic and applied purchase in illuminating the complexities of educational and policy-making processes broadly conceptualized. Although this workshop will have a focus on education as a context, we view the interactive processes occurring within educational settings as reflective of social network phenomena in general. Thus, while we will foreground education during our time together, we will also provide larger connections to a variety of concepts and systems that include a social component (e.g. policy networks, leadership, and organizational studies).

This interactive workshop will begin with an opportunity for participants to generate and articulate network-related research questions in the realm of education specific to their interests. We will then carefully trace two examples of network-based research projects—one focusing on school/district-level contexts and the other on education policy. Along the way we will focus on the details of conceptualizing, designing, and executing network-based studies in education from question generation to instrument development to analysis and reporting results to multiple audiences. These example projects will be used as a point of departure for participants to further develop their own network studies as well as raise issues and questions that they will confront in executing their own studies.


Alan J. Daly, Ph.D. is Chair and Professor of the Department of Education Studies at the University of California, San Diego. His research and teaching primarily focus on the role of leadership, educational policy, and organization structures and the relationship between those elements on the educational attainment of traditionally marginalized populations. Alan draws on his methodological expertise in social network analysis in his work and has a book on the topic published by Harvard Press entitled, Social Network Theory and Educational Change and a second book with Springer entitled, Using Research Evidence in Schools. 

Joseph J. Ferrare, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies & Evaluation at the University of Kentucky, where he also holds courtesy appointments in the Department of Sociology and Martin School of Public Policy & Administration. His work in network theory and methods examines patterns of education attainment and the network governance structures that are in place that both support and constrain educational outcomes. His work also implicates how changing these patterns through education policy and reform movements may result in more equitable systems. 

Suggested Readings:

Daly, A. J. (2012). Data, dyads, and dynamics: Exploring data use and social networks in educational improvement. Teachers College Record, 114, 1-38.

Frank, K. A., Zhao, Y., Penuel, W. R., Ellefson, N., & Porter, S. (2011). Focus, fiddle, and friends: Experiences that transform knowledge for the implementation of innovations. Sociology of Education, 84(2), 137-156.

Moolenaar, N. M., Daly, A. J., Sleegers, P. J. C. (2010). Occupying the principal position: Examining relationships between transformational leadership, social network position, and schools' innovative climate. Educational Administration Quarterly, 46(5), 623–670.

Ferrare, J. J. (2013). The duality of courses and students: A field-theoretic analysis of secondary school course-taking. Sociology of Education, 86(2), 139-157.

Ferrare, J. J. & Setari, R. (2018). Converging on choice: The inter-state flow of foundation dollars to charter school reform. Educational Researcher, 47(1), 34-45. 

See this interactive website for a study of social networks on Twitter as related to educational policy:

In addition, the following texts may provide some additional background and insights into social networks particularly in education.

Carolan, B. V. (2013). Social network analysis and educational research: Theory, methods, and applications (Chapter 1). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Daly, A. .J. (Editor) (2010). Social Network Theory and Educational Change. Cambridge MA, Harvard Education Press.