Presence in Distance: the Lived Experience of Adult Faith Formation in an Online Learning Community
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The purpose of this hermeneutic phenomenological study was to better understand the ways that adult learners studying Catholic theology become present to one another, strengthen bonds of community, and contemplate the face of Christ in computer-mediated, text-based distance education. Ten geographically dispersed learners seeking undergraduate or graduate degrees in Catholic theology participated in the study. There was no face-to-face interaction.
Through a password protected site specifically designed for the research, participants engaged in eight weeks of text-based, online conversation. They reflected on emergent themes about technology and the ways that it alters time, place, presentation of self, and relationships. Text as sacred, relational, presentational, communal, and transformational was explored, as was the nature and meaning of community, especially the spiritual quest to contemplate the face of Christ in an online community. The study offers a deep understanding of the meaning of presence and the development of community in the context of faith.
Serving as the philosophical methodological foundation were the writings of Martin Heidegger (1927/1993), Hans-Georg Gadamer (1960/1999), Gabriel Marcel (1937/1967), John Paul II as Cardinal Carol Wojtyla (1976), and Robert Sokolowski (1993). The phenomenological method of Max van Manen (2003) guided data collection and analysis through the dynamic interplay of six research activities: (a) turning to the phenomenon which seriously interests us and commits us to the world; (b) investigating experience as we live it rather than as we conceptualize it; (c) reflecting on the essential themes which characterize the phenomenon; (d) describing the phenomenon through the art of writing and rewriting; (e) maintaining a strong and oriented pedagogical relation to the phenomenon; (f) balancing the research context by considering parts and whole.Recommendations for practitioners of computer-mediated education are explored; suggestions for future research include longitudinal studies of theology students in fully online programs, ways of introducing transcendent presence in online learning communities, how language bears on learning and presence, and the role of non-text based media and virtual environments on presence and the spiritual quest.
- Doctoral Dissertations