Understanding Student Experiences and Learning in the Common Ground Multicultural Dialogue Program: A Case Study

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This constructivist case study explored undergraduate students' experiences and learning as a result of their participation in the Common Ground Multicultural Dialogue Program at the University of Maryland. The research questions that guided this study were: (1) How do undergraduate students describe their learning and experiences as participants in Common Ground?; (2) How do undergraduate students describe their willingness and ability to engage in difficult dialogues as a result of participating in Common Ground? This study included seven participants from two Common Ground dialogue groups during the Fall 2009 semester. Data collection included semi-structured individual interviews and reflective essays written by the participants. Data was analyzed using the constant comparative method characteristic of grounded theory (Merriam, 2009).

Five themes emerged from the analysis.  The participants described the Common Ground Program's model, structure, and setting as central to their experience.  The second theme dealt with students' perceptions of conflict, negotiating conflict within the dialogue, and self-censorship.  The third theme incorporated the relationships between identity, experiences, and perspectives.  Fourth, the participants illustrated cognitive development in their acknowledgement of multiple perspectives, recognition of peers as sources of learning, and comfort and value in challenging their own opinions.  Lastly, the participants described their willingness to engage in dialogues on controversial topics and new approaches to dialogues based on their experiences in the Common Ground Program.