Web of wisdom: A field study of a virtual learning community
Ruth M. Cox, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, United States
Institute of Transpersonal Psychology . Awarded
The Internet creates a unique opportunity for building virtual learning communities. This field study investigated the experiences of 12 adults engaged in a computer-mediated education program using an asynchronous online conference. To reveal what fostered meaningful discourse and transformative learning, the study used an ethnographic participant-observation approach supported by interpretation of online transcripts, fieldnotes, a focus group discussion, questionnaires, and phone interviews. Participants explored aspects of their psychological and spiritual development, sharing their life stories through creative writing and imagery, online and in person for one year. Personal storytelling and virtual group discourse revealed examples of transpersonal experiences, in which the participant's sense of self-identity extended beyond (trans) the individual or personal to encompass wider aspects of relatedness to others, the natural world, or the cosmos. Participants reported the importance of pace and flow in online discourse as well as a sense of immersive presence. Sustained online discourse was found to be crucial in observing participatory thought and creating a supportive structure for collaborative learning. Seven key elements that fostered transformative learning are: (1) Combine face-to-face meetings with virtual presence; (2) Establish the container with attention to community size, structure, tone, and intention; (3) Structure the community to be self-creating, self-maintaining, and self-defining through flexible curriculum design and whole-group learning; (4) Encourage the development of in-the-moment self awareness, mindfulness, and immersive presence; (5) Guide risk-taking through shared feelings, life experiences, and reclaimed projections; (6) Welcome humor, improvisation, and creative expression; (7) Share the search for meaning: See all of life and education as a transformational journey. Detailed descriptions of program development, structure, facilitation, and curriculum are offered that could be applied to a range of different lifelong learning settings.
Cox, R.M. Web of wisdom: A field study of a virtual learning community. Ph.D. thesis, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology.
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