The Impact of a Peer Multicultural Dialogue Leader Training Program on Cognitive Development of College Students and Overall Learning: An Evaluative Case Study

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This study was a formal case study evaluation of college students' learning associated with participation in the Peer Multicultural Dialogue Leader training program in the Common Ground Dialogue Program at the University of Maryland. Outcomes of interest were the impact of the training program on cognitive development as defined by Perry's (1968/1970) theory of intellectual development, understanding of multiple perspectives, the nature of experiential learning, and the dialogue leaders' characterizations of their overall learning.

The research questions were studied through an evaluative case study. The primary unit of analysis was the Spring 2005 training program and the embedded units of analyses were eight sophomore students in the training program. Explanatory, descriptive, and exploratory case study methods were used (Merriam, 1998; Yin, 2003a) that incorporated both qualitative and quantitative research methods. Data were collected from five sources: the Measure of Intellectual Development (MID) (Knefelkamp, 1974; Widick, 1975), participant interviews, e-mail reflections, observations of training sessions, and a focus group with five program alumni. Techniques for data analysis included pattern matching (Yin, 2003b) and interpretive analysis (Merriam, 1998; Stake, 1995).

The results and findings from this study revealed that the training program was a developmentally powerful learning environment for the dialogue leaders. Participation in the program was found to promote and enhance cognitive development, encourage understanding of multiple perspectives, provide opportunities for experiential learning, and promote additional learning in the categories of knowledge acquisition, skill development, self-awareness, and integrated transferability. MID results indicated that six of the eight participants showed positive change in cognitive development as defined by Perry's (1968/1970) theory during the training semester, with five of the six showing positive change of at least half a position.

Three themes emerged as especially significant. The findings suggest that (a) intentionally teaching Perry's (1968/1970) theory to undergraduate students promotes cognitive development, (b) teaching concepts of "process" and "content" promotes cognitive development, and (c) requiring students to be "neutral facilitators" results in listening, self-reflection, and increased understanding of self and others.

Several implications of the findings are discussed. These include implications for theory, the dialogue program, and undergraduate multicultural teaching and education.