Lamb, Carmelita; Ph.D.
Program of Human Development, Counselor Education;
College of Human Development and Education; North Dakota State University
Cohort Model Learning Communities: The Tribal College Perspective of Best Practices in Teacher Education
Major Professor: Dr. Myron Eighmy
The tribal college is widely considered to be the most successful educational institution serving Native American students in the United States. Within this culturally rich educational environment institutional efforts to improve student retention and persistence are targeted to accommodate the unique nature and needs of Native American students. Previous studies have shown a relationship between cultural conflict and poor persistence of Native American students in mainstream higher education (Davis, 1992). Currently there are six tribal colleges that offer an accredited Bachelor's degree in teacher education. Cohort model learning communities are common practice in teacher education programs in tribal colleges that offer this degree and are considered to have a positive influence upon student persistence. This mixed methods case study investigated whether learning communities in tribal colleges purposefully implement the eight characteristics of a learning community (student-student collaboration, student-faculty collaboration, increase in academic involvement, perspectivism, cooperative learning, linking academics to real life issues, interdisciplinary learning, and knowledge constructivism) as reported by Snider and Venable (2000). A ninth criterion, culture, was proposed as an addition to the current theory of learning communities in mainstream higher education. Data collection included student interviews, student survey, and teacher education faculty and staff group interviews. This methodology is a reflection of Vincent Tinto's previous research protocol for investigating a learning community in mainstream institutions (Tinto, 1998). Overriding themes reported in this research include: (a) the influential role of culture in the cohort model learning community; (b) evidence of the cohort model learning community operating as a family in the tribal college; (c) the role of the instructor in forming meaningful student-faculty relationships; (d) the impact of student-faculty relationships on student success, an increase in student academic motivation; (e) a diminished sense of perspectivism witnessed by Native students; (f) an increase in cooperative learning amongst cohort members; (g) an ability of students to link academics to real life issues; (h) value added learning through interdisciplinary course work; (i) and a mixed understanding of the theory of knowledge constructivism. Pedagogically, tribal college faculty view the cohort model learning community as an opportunity for them to model best teaching practices to their students. Tribal college faculty recognize the positive influence of the cohort model learning community upon student persistence, and view culture as the central theme from which all education emanates from at the tribal college. Validation of Native American culture is deeply embedded in all tribal colleges and is the central premise from which all academic programming and activities occur. The cohort model learning community is operationalized from a uniquely Native perspective, and the results of this study suggest that learning community criteria previously reported by Snider and Venable (2000) exists in a culturally relevant tribal college environment.