Students’ Peer Relationships, Social and Academic Goals, and Academic Achievement: A Social Network Analysis Approach

This is a small subset of the larger network. Each node represents a student, and the lines between them represent a peer connection. The nodes are sized so that those who receive the most nominations are largest.

Both personal and contextual factors contribute to develop students’ motivation and academic success. This dissertation focuses on one major contextual factor of schools: peer relationships. Despite considerable evidence that peer relationships matter for students’ academic processes and outcomes, there is a need to understand the direction of influence, to bridge research on social motivation and outcomes with academic motivation and outcomes, and to conceptualize the influence of peer relationships appropriately, which in part relies upon methods for measuring peer influences. The dissertation was accordingly designed to assess how high school students’ peer relationships interact with their academic motivation, social motivation, and academic achievement. Using the framework of Achievement Goal Theory, students’ social and academic motivation were defined as the different orientations of students’ academic and social goals—whether students are focusing on developing competence, demonstrating competence, or avoiding demonstrating incompetence in the academic and social domains of school. Social network analysis procedures are used to calculate several measures representing students’ centrality within the overall high school peer social network as well as to identify which peers are directly connected to the student.

The study was conducted at a large U.S. Midwestern public high school. Students (n = 851) completed surveys at three time points: the beginning, middle, and end of the 2010-2011 school year. Survey measures included an assessment of students’ peer social network connections, academic achievement goals, and social achievement goals. The dissertation was partitioned into three broad research objectives: 1) to describe the dynamic nature of the high school peer social networks and students’ academic and social motivation, 2) to understand the relationships and predictive influence among students’ academic goals, social goals, peer network position, and academic achievement across the school year, and 3) to examine the impact of peers’ academic goals, social goals, and academic achievement on students’ own goals and achievement.

Students’ academic goals, social goals, network position, and academic achievement changed across the school year, and there were several grade level, gender, and race differences. The study provided evidence that academic variables (academic goals and academic achievement) and social variables (social goals and students’ social network position) served as both predictors and outcomes, supporting the notion that these processes and outcomes are reciprocally influential. Students’ social goals, specifically the goal to have high quality relationships with others, stood out as important for influencing positive changes in social network position and academic achievement across the school year as compared to academic goals. Academic achievement also emerged as an important predictor of change in students’ academic goals, social goals, and social network position. Furthermore, changes in students’ academic goals, social goals, and academic achievement could be predicted by the levels of motivation and achievement of the peers with whom they regularly “hang out with” at school. Thus students’ motivation and academic achievement was socialized by their peers. As a consequence of these multiple perspectives and the inclusion of both social and academic goals, the present study provided a comprehensive demonstration of the importance of peers for students’ academic development. In sum, learning at school is a social endeavor. Future research and implications for educational practice are discussed within the dissertation.


My dissertation committee included Stuart Karabenick (chair), Kai Cortina, Stephanie Teasley, Barry Fishman, and Allison Ryan.  I successfully defended on March 28, 2013. You are welcome to view my dissertation here. If you have any questions please email me at kamakara@umich.edu.


The dissertation is part of a larger ongoing project I have been managing with support from Stuart Karabenick, Combined Program of Education and Psychology at the University of Michigan. Survey processing was provided in collaboration with the Motivation Assessment Program, with support from the National Science Foundation, Grant DUE: 0928103, Principal Investigator: Stuart Karabenick, Ph.D. Special thanks to Alanna Epstein (Doctoral Student), Pat Cotter (Research Assistant), Glen Raulerson (Research Technician), Pam MacGinnis-Weir (Administrator), and Elaine Kussurelis, Molly Ryan, and Alex Yee (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program students). The project received initial IRB approval in August 2010 and has been renewed annually.

This is the full social network of the high school, collected during the 2010-2011 school year. The node colors represent students’ self-reported race/ethnicity. African American = Yellow, Asian = Green, Caucasian = Blue, Other = Red.