Understanding the Advanced Calculus Workshops through the voices of students of African descent

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education


Vincent Tinto


Calculus, Cooperative learning, Advanced Calculus Workshops, African descent

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Educational Sociology | Higher Education and Teaching | Science and Mathematics Education


This study was based on individual interviews with eight students of African descent and one focus group with three workshop leaders from the Advanced Calculus Workshop (ACW) in the College of Engineering at a predominantly White, mid-sized private research institution in the Northeast Region of the United States (hereafter referred to as "NERU"). The major concern that framed this study was how an understanding of student experience helps us better understand how such programs can be employed to promote student success.

Students identified the role of talk as foundational to the success of the workshop. They defined talk in terms of social talk, asking questions and asking for help, and learning by explaining. The students used social talk as a vehicle for establishing a comfortable environment in which to learn calculus. They also used talk to explain problems to other students in the ACW.

The climate in the ACW appeared different from the participants' traditional lectures and recitations in part because of the size of the workshop. That participants and the facilitator were both students and therefore on the "same level" also seemed to minimize the dominant-subordinate relationship in the workshop. Despite the low percentage of students of African descent in engineering, informants said that the climate of the workshop made them feel like equal members, all focused on mastering calculus.

Finally, the participants focused on what they learned about calculus and concepts beyond calculus. Students talked about improvements they made in communications skills, group interactions skills, and patience. They also talked about doing more work than planned by spending extra time in the workshop or by doing more work than they had anticipated. The participants began to look beyond just their own learning to collective understanding.

The findings suggest that deliberate and intentional opportunities need to be created in the confines of a classroom or beyond the classroom for students to engage in learning in a group. Students need to be given an opportunity to get to know each other and build the level of trust and respect needed to be equal members in the learning environment. Providing additional venues for getting assistance with questions beyond the workshop environment, until the trust and respect has been created inside the classroom may have a positive influence on student learning.


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