Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education



First Advisor

Dr. Roger Nasser

Second Advisor

Dr. Robert Steffes

Third Advisor

Dr. Sherrie Wisdom


In the 2017-2018 academic year, the School of Humanities of a private, Midwestern university began a pilot program of two first-year learning communities in the Fall, with an additional learning community in the Spring. Each learning community consisted of three theme-linked courses, for a total of nine courses over two semesters. As the study unfolded, the first and the third of the learning communities lived up to expectations of the faculty and administrators as communities of increased engagement and academic success. The second community struggled with engagement and both students and faculty felt that their theme-linked group failed to demonstrate the desired effects of learning communities. Research on learning communities has been heavily quantitative, based primarily on National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) data (Arensdorf & Naylor-Tincknell, 2016; Malnarich et al., 2014). Therefore, the lack of qualitative data on learning communities formed a research gap, and I planned this research project to be primarily qualitative. Research focused on interviews and focus groups of both the student and faculty. The purpose of this study was to investigate how students and faculty experienced their participation in a learning community pilot project, or why students and faculty would engage in learning communities. With profound differences between the two first-semester communities, the question also arose as to why one community would flourish, while the other struggled. What makes a learning community successful for student and faculty participants?


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