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Human Connection in Virtual Space: Trying CCT Online

Lisel Joseph | August 25, 2017

For this year’s CCT Teacher Training program, we were thrilled to receive a wonderfully diverse applicant pool from all around the United States and world. However, we faced a dilemma: Many of these applicants had not completed the eight-week CCT prerequisite, and in fact were unable to do so, because there were no existing CCT teachers local to their area. Because we want everyone to enter the Teacher Training program with a strong grasp of CCT from a participant’s perspective, we were not comfortable waiving the prerequisite.

 

As a compromise, we decided to offer an experimental online CCT class. Our aim is to recreate the experience of a traditional CCT class as closely as possible, while also honoring the inherent differences between a physical and a virtual classroom. We offered spaces in the class to a number of Teacher Training applicants who live in places not currently served by any CCT teachers.

 

I agreed to be present in each class as technical support and an assistant to the teacher, but I was also excited for the opportunity simply to observe this new format. Going into the classes, I was optimistic, but unsure what to expect. My own experience taking CCT was defined by a palpable trust and openness among the group, and I questioned if that degree of intimacy would be possible without a shared physical space. I wondered about the possibilities of human connection via a grid of grainy video feeds on each of our computer screens.

 

 
A meeting in Zoom, the videoconference software we are using for the online CCT classes.This image does not show an actual CCT class. (Source)
We are now on week three of the eight-week program. We are offering the class in three time slots, taught by our Compassion Institute Founding Faculty members Monica Hanson, Leah Weiss, and Margaret Cullen. Across these three classes we have 48 participants from 18 countries. From the very first class session I was humbled simply by the coming-together of people across nations, cultures, and time zones, all dedicated to cultivating and promoting compassion. I feel a great appreciation for the commitment participants have already demonstrated—to showing up, despite busy schedules, travel, and late hours (some participants are beginning each class session late as 11:00 pm in their time zones). I am grateful for their commitment to treating the online gathering like one would a classroom, bringing a full and focused presence; for their commitment to engaging in the meditation practices, and to building a small community on the principles of openness, kindness, respect for these eight weeks.
As far as whether the interpersonal connectedness of a traditional CCT class can be replicated in an online format, I believe the answer is yes. I have noticed many moments in which someone chose to be vulnerable and share with the group, and others responded in a way that demonstrated their presence as listeners, reinforcing the safety of our online classroom.

It has also been interesting to explore some advantages of the online format. In one class session this week, Founding Faculty member Leah Weiss facilitated an exercise in which participants are asked to take on a physical posture that embodies a recalled feeling of, first, compassion, and second, anger. This, Leah pointed out, may actually be an example of an exercise where the online format is beneficial. In person, some people may feel self-conscious about taking on an expressive pose in front of their fellow participants, but in the online class, Leah asked participants to first disable their video feeds before beginning this exercise. That way, each participant had privacy to fully engage in this exercise before re-enabling their videos and returning to the group.

 

It’s clear that CCT online will never be an identical experience to CCT in person. No matter how well we prepare, technical issues will sometimes arise. No matter how seriously we take the class, no matter the resolution of our webcams, there is an unavoidable distance when people gather online. There is the distraction of being in our own homes and on our own computers, with small interruptions by family, pets, or emails. Yet, while I can’t speak for the participants, I have not felt that those challenges detracted from the overall experience.

 

I know that everyone involved in running these online classes feels it is important that we proceed with thoughtfulness and caution, as with any adaptation of CCT. We do not want to imply that the online class is the same as traditional CCT, and we still feel that the greatest value comes from taking the class in person. For now, any online classes that take place will be offered through CI and taught by members of our Founding Faculty.

Despite our caution, we see online CCT classes as an exciting potential way to fulfill an ongoing need. As this year’s Teacher Training admissions process demonstrated, there are people worldwide who would love to take CCT, but are simply not located near a teacher. Depending on the feedback we receive from our current participants, we may offer online classes again in the future, perhaps opening this offering to more than just Teacher Training applicants. By catering specifically to those who cannot otherwise participate in CCT, we can open our arms to a broader community, both in the United States and worldwide.
We would love to hear your thoughts on CCT in an online format, whether from the perspective of teacher, alum, or prospective participant. You can comment on this blog post, or share your thoughts at [email protected]

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