Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Sandra P. Thomas

Committee Members

Katherine H. Greenberg, Barbara J. Thayer-Bacon, Ralph G. Brockett, Joanne Logan


The literature on higher education classroom climate and its relationship to teaching and learning is dominated by studies and theorizing regarding the role of the instructor. But when instructors use learner-centered approaches and diffuse the role and authority of the teacher, students gain a higher level of influence in the learning experience of their peers. In this phenomenological case study of a unique graduate seminar, I interpreted the thematic structure of the student experience of other students (SEOS). Data sources included field notes, audio recordings of class sessions, weekly student post-class reflections, and individual and focus group interviews with students. Students experienced each other as “All Together in This Space,” the context of their experience in which the following themes were figural: Student “Investment” was described in terms of subthemes “Responsibility,” “Getting Hands Dirty,” and “Genuineness;” students were “Completely Caught Up” in each other’s stories and course content, and the experience of other students “Spilled Out” of the typical classroom setting; and students experienced “Coming to Appreciate Variations” in a learning progression that included subthemes of “Diversity,” “Seeing Variations,” and “Changes in Being.” The transformational learning students described as part of their SEOS included valuing things they did not value before, changes in perspective on major areas of life like time, and the ability to listen even in the face of strong disagreement. Thus, a strength of this study is its ability to capture longitudinal progression over the academic semester. The results from this study provide a unique contribution to the fields of classroom climate and transformative learning with a road map that instructors can use to help their students engage more deeply with course content and each other and a classroom climate framework that can guide course design.

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