Channeling Friendships across Social Types via Mediated Communication and High School Clubs
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This dissertation is about how common contexts for extracurricular activities, friendships, and technology mediated interactions form social structures that are related to distinct civic experiences of high school youth from diverse social types. A key role of education is to prepare individuals to participate in civil society. Extracurricular and civic experiences during high school contribute to such preparation because they are associated to civic participation in adulthood. Yet, participation opportunities for students are unequal. Research suggests that adolescents of diverse social types (i.e., categorical labels based on behavior stereotypes that students place on each other, like "Jocks" or "Gamers") are predisposed to different activities. Extracurricular participation is further constrained by concerns for social validation (e.g., underperforming to not be labeled "Nerd"). Today, such social processes are increasingly mediated by communication technologies and social media. Despite the importance of social types, extracurricular activities or school clubs, friendships, and technologies in adolescents' social development, little is known about their synergistic influences, the social structures they create, and how such structures affect civic experiences. In this dissertation, I compare such phenomena across two high schools. Based on 315 surveys, 26 interviews and observations collected over 10 months, I found that there are potentially optimal social structures for adolescents' development of civic experiences; that the existence of multiple domain-specific school clubs, particularly in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) and community service, was critical to the distinct social structures observed in each school; and that when the social structures were based on mediated interactions via different technologies (e.g., texting, instant messaging), specific affordances were revealed, about technologies and activity contexts, that helped make sense of how sub-communities select a communication technology to maintain needed group boundaries while use others to remain connected to their broader community. Using established methods in social network analysis, I examine the common contexts shared by social types. Adopting an information perspective, I describe how social information, such as values and norms, is channeled across social types via their common contexts of shared friendships or school clubs. I also assess the potential for such channels to bridge social divisions. Observed social structures corroborated students' perceptions of social divisions, and the desire (or lack thereof) by social types from each school to participate in civic activities. I conclude first, with implications for schools to plan for broader civic participation according to the observed social structures. Then, I address the need for researchers to use social interaction data from more than one technology medium to make conclusions about social structure. Finally, I discuss design opportunities and challenges for supporting sub-communities' needs to reify their group boundaries through a preferred technology while maintaining some connection to other groups. These implications for schools, research methods, and technology design, speak to the major concerns in information science: on the development of STEM and civics as part of life-long learning, on assessing research methods to study the vast availability of online data, and on novel design directions.
- Information science