Struggling for knowledge: Students, coordinated studies, and collaborative learning

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Sari Knopp Biklen


college students, Curricula, Teaching, Educational sociology, Community colleges

Subject Categories

Educational Sociology


This dissertation is the result of a qualitative study of Coordinated Studies Programs (CSPs) at Urban Central Community College. CSPs are inter-disciplinary, team-taught, courses that have been developed around thematic topics, and employ a collaborative learning pedagogy. They are characterized by instructors discussing course content in front of students, students working in small groups on assignments, and academic experiences grounded in everyday reality.

The purpose of this study was to examine CSP pedagogy from the perspectives of students in these programs. Three one week site visits were made during the 1991-1992 academic year. Data collection consisted of participant observation in CSP classes, open-ended interviews with more than 70 students.

Results are presented in three categories: struggling with school, struggling in class, and struggling over learning. Students who attend Urban Central come to college with multi-faceted identities. They must balance competing demands of pressure to stay in school, family and child care needs, financial limits, jobs, social commitments, the security of former careers, and a level of uncertainty about earning a college degree. CSPs support students by creating a bridge between the out-of-class world and CSPs. Through seminar activities, group project assignments, class discussions, and self-evaluation reports, CSPs encourage students to incorporate their out-of-class experiences into their learning.

In the classroom, students struggle to understand content, please instructors, complete assignments, and sustain an interest. CSPs compel students to actively participate in their learning. An inter-disciplinary approach, continuity of course activities, extensive peer support, and a wide diversity of students interact forming a web of support for active participation.

Students in CSPs arrive with an understanding of a teacher-centered learning model in which instructors control content and class activities. Collaboration among students, faculty, and course content provides a new model of learning that challenges students to embrace an expanded picture of the learning process.

CSP pedagogy blends a learning community structure with an inter-disciplinary approach and a collaborative learning process. This pedagogy has the potential to change ways students think of themselves as students and ways they think about learning.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.