Combining Social and Epistemic Network analyses to study teachers’ communities of practice

Barbara Dzieciatko, Natasa Pantic, Sarah Galey


Social Network Analysis (SNA) is a tool can be used to measure social relations between social actors in an organisation. It is often used for studying informal types of relationships, for example networks of alliances and trust. SNA has gained popularity in social sciences as a methodology that offers promising ways of analysing social practices as webs of relationships. While SNA can provide information about structure of relations, its ability to capture effects on behaviour remains largely in the domain of theoretical assumptions about mechanisms of interaction between human agency and social structures. Epistemic Network Analysis (ENA) is a relatively new but versatile method for quantifying qualitative data, visualising and interpreting it as a network. Originally developed to study learning, it involves techniques and tools that combine qualitative and quantitative approaches to explore not just what learners do and with whom, but how and why they do it. The strength of the technique lies within combining the study of culture and discourses together with statistical tools. We have explored the potential of using SNA and ENA methods together to conduct simultaneous Social and Epistemic Network (SEN) analysis. SEN is based on combining qualitative content analysis with quantitative social network analysis to address a range of questions. This was tested using participants’ personal stories and SEN approach in a study of teacher agency as an example. This paper outlines benefits of combining SNA and ENA, such as taking advantage of statistical tests to measure change in discourses across time or between groups. We also discussed challenges, such as data collection, the need of researcher’s understanding of discourse contexts, reliability of coding, and the need for very precise theoretical conceptualisations. Finally, we made recommendations that SEN can be used for future study on teachers’ networks of collegiality. Collegial networks of support have been proven to increase teacher’s motivation, job satisfaction, increased social capital and sense of agency and are linked to a positive impact on learner’s experiences. Literature often refers to them as community of practice (CoP). However, very little is understood in terms what sets such network aside from other types of social networks. Theoretically, CoP is distinct by its qualities that are difficult to measure consistently. SEN has the potential to measure and visualise CoP’s operationalised properties: mutual engagement, joint enterprise and shared repertoire.



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