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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Nature as Guide for Vibrant Learning a Living Systems Framework for Academic Learning Experience Design Toward a Thriving Sustainable World
by Widhalm, Barbara, Ph.D., California Institute of Integral Studies, 2011, 210; 3489705
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation describes how living systems principles can inform educational design. It develops a theoretical framework for designing academic learning experiences, such as courses, workshops, or conferences, as organic wholes that sustain learning verve. The framework is intended to aid educators in awakening a felt sensation of aliveness, vibrancy, and self-organizing creativity in a group of learners.

The framework is theoretically grounded in living systems theory, ecology, and ecopsychology, as well as transformative learning theory and related schools of thought. Special attention is given to the autopoietic processes of learning experiences as living systems, that is, as self-organizing, dynamic wholes rich in relational patterns that carry the potential for generative insight, emergent knowing, and palpable empowerment of a learning experience as a living organism.

The researcher utilized metapatterns of nature as a creative design structure for educators to evoke living systems awareness across multiple dimensions of teaching and learning. Special attention is given to the structural-spatial, rhythmic-temporal, and expressive-extrarational dimensions as essential gateways into deepening cognitive-rational learning content and practical, project-based learning strategies. By creating conditions for mutual care and authentic feedback in community, and by intentionally patterning space and time to allow for organic developments, educators can facilitate directly felt and intimately lived learning experiences. This vibrant experiencing of living systems is important in preparing learners as change-makers in increasingly unpredictable and challenging times.

The researcher offers a set of inquiry questions and design guidelines intended to assist educators in exploring applications of this new framework in a variety of learning contexts of teaching for a healthier world. The primary target group is educators for sustainability and transformative change. However, the framework can be utilized more broadly to stimulate vibrant learning experience design in virtually any learning context.

The framework was vetted for its validity based on three exemplars of vibrant learning experience design from the researcher's own experience, including Learning Community a 4-semester former core course at the California Institute of Integral Studies, Biodanzaa systems-based creative movement modality, and The Work that Reconnects a dynamic system of empowering participatory exercises for change-makers and activists.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Gozawa, Joanne
Commitee: Bache, Christopher, Reynolds, Sherrie
School: California Institute of Integral Studies
Department: Transformative Inquiry
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 73/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Education, Sustainability, Systems science
Keywords: Autopoiesis, Ecological literacy, Living systems, Multiple ways of knowing, Sustainability education, Transformative learning
Publication Number: 3489705
ISBN: 978-1-267-09127-7
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