Becoming a cooperative learner: Supplemental instruction experiences at a community college

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education


John A. Centra


Cooperative learner, Supplemental instruction, Community college

Subject Categories

Community College Leadership | Curriculum and Instruction | Higher Education Administration


This study is an exploration of the Supplemental Instruction experience at a community college. The study was designed to gain a better understanding of these peer lead study groups grounded in the perspectives of students. The community college was located in the northeast and served 8000 full time, part time, and continuing education students. The qualitative design included data collection via participant observation, individual interviews, group interviews, and review of related materials over the course of a semester.

The students described a cooperative environment built upon shared values, goals, and expectations. This environment included norms around appropriate behavior, creating a safe environment, and protecting the group culture. Within this group environment and culture, students described perceptions and patterns of shares authority framed through the role of the leader. Authority was a fluid point on a continuum between high leader authority and high shared authority in group. Authority was presented through three domains of leadership: social leadership, administrative leadership, and content leadership and students and group leaders both resisted and promoted shared authority.

The students engaged in this negotiated authority in different ways related to their personal perspectives and experiences. They described critical perspectives that relate to their patterns of participation in the groups. As students described higher levels of participation in group, they also described shifts in their perceptions of themselves as learner, peers, relationship to content, and locus of control.

The participants of this study explained how Supplemental Instruction served as an opportunity to engage in content within a social context. The social engagement not related to higher content understanding; it provided a form of involvement for students whose involvement was often limited by other life roles and responsibilities.

The findings support the critical role peers and cooperative learning have in student learning, satisfaction, integration, and persistence. The findings also suggest dimensions to cooperation that may yield design that is more effective, implementation, and assessment of group learning.


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