Integrating Face-to-Face and Virtual in the Study of Group Relations

Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation or Master's Thesis

Title: Integrating face-to-face and virtual in the study of group relations
Year: 2010
Authors: Dent, N.

Online communication is a massive social phenomenon that has revolutionised group, organisational, and interpersonal communications. This dramatic trend is likely to continue and have major implications, as well as opportunities, for the enhancement and detraction from the effective practice and science of human relations.

The aim of this research project is to study and explore the group dynamics that exist in a virtual system (a virtual large study group) by comparing them to the experience of a similarly structured physical system (a face-to-face large study group).

While there is a wealth of information and theory on the experience in face-to-face large study groups, a practice that dates back to the work undertaken by the Tavistock group in 1940s England with soldiers returning from the war, little research has been published on virtual large study groups as this is a relatively new area of psychodynamic study.

The key research questions that inform the research include:
• How do virtual group dynamics differ from physical (face-to-face) dynamics?
• How will commonly observed anxieties in physical large groups happen in the VLSG and at what rate?
• How do the consultants work together in a virtual world to contain the anxiety of the group?
• How do you develop trust and collaboration in a virtual group?
• How do you create a safer space for online interaction?

The research methodology is based on a collaborative action research design and included qualitative analysis of the virtual large study group (VLSG) transcripts, semi-structured interviews and focus groups with participants of the VLSG, and creation of secondary data in the research working group and reflection groups.

This research paper provides evidence of the systems psychodynamic experience of a virtual large study group (VLSG) using the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a metaphor. This resonated with my experience of this project, as I dipped in and out of the research project, slipping between the real and virtual worlds, with the learning happening somewhere at the edge or in the transition between these two worlds.

Keywords: group relations, virtual, online, communication
Language: English

Date: 10/29/2010
Name of dissertation/Thesis Chair: Dr Wendy Harding
University: RMIT
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Submitted by:
Nuala Dent
Organisational Consultant
Drawing on Experience

Corresponding author: Nuala Dent

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