e Q u e s t

What is eQuest?

Online learning and personal growth!
On the internet people can find a wide variety of opportunities to better understand and resolve personal issues in their lives. There are dozens of web sites offering information related to mental and physical health, family life, social relationships, religion, careers, and education. Some sites describe specific self-help techniques or offer online psychological tests to assess oneself. Numerous online support and self-help groups have formed that address almost any psychological or social issue you can name. Realizing the unique aspects of online communication, many researchers in the social sciences, including psychologists, are beginning to explore the various positive effects of life in cyberspace. In my journal publications and in my online book The Psychology of Cyberspace, I have examined the cognitive and emotional benefits of communicating via text, the effects of partial anonymity in encouraging self-disclosure, the advantages of online identity experimentation, how people can psychologically prosper from participating in online relationships and communities, and the advantages of doing professional counseling and psychotherapy in cyberspace.

Avoiding the pitfalls of cyberspace
At the same time, there are pitfalls in cyberspace living. Some web sites offer useless or even harmful misinformation. Due to the lack of face-to-face cues in text communication (e-mail, chat), people easily can misunderstand each other, resulting in confusion or conflict. The anonymity that is possible in online interactions also encourages some people to act out inappropriately and destructively towards others. People or groups with less than benign intentions are not uncommon. Finally, there is tendency for some people to become "addicted" to the internet, resulting in an unhealthy neglect of their family, friends, and responsibilities.

A new kind of program... a philosophy
Despite the large number of informational web sites, support groups, and psychotherapeutic services that are now being offered online, there is as yet no comprehensive program that educates people about these positive and negative aspects of online activites, or that systematically guides them into an effective exploration of online resources.... until now.

In your Independent Study project you will participate in and help me develop a new program called eQuest. This program is not simply a collection of links to and descriptions of web sites - which is the common approach nowadays - but rather a comprehensive framework of online resources and step-by-step protocols that help a person access, compare, combine, apply, and evaluate those resources. The program involves a flexible design that enables each person to tailor it to his or her own personal needs. It pays close attention to helping people understand and take advantage of the potential benefits of online communication and relationships while also recognizing and avoiding the potential pitfalls. The most important feature is the emphasis on combining and integrating several different types of online activities, as well as the integrating of those activities into one's in-person living. Exactly what collection of activities works best for what person and what problem may vary, but the assumption of the program is that this combination of activities provides the synergistic catalyst for learning and change.

As you try out the program, you will be offering feedback on how to improve it. We also will be developing a theory to explain how the program works. That theory will be the foundation for the eQuest "philosophy" or "ideology" that helps the person using the program to better understand and benefit from it. That philosophy includes these goals:

- Feel empowered to become a knowledgeable user of online resources

- Experiment with new behaviors and expressions of self while online

- Experiment with different modalities of online communication

- Integrate online resources and activities with each other

- Integrate online activities with your in-person lifestyle

- Develop a healthy online lifestyle

- Explore a personal issue... Know thyself

That last item is important because even though you will use eQuest to explore a specific issue that is personally meaningful to you, a more general goal is understand yourself better, in many different ways, by experimenting with a lifestyle in cyberspace.

Participant-observation research
If you have written your proposal for the Independent Study, then you already know what the issue is that you will explore via eQuest. It is an important issue to study academically, but it also is an issue that is personally meaningful to you and that applies to your life in some important way. In addition to thinking of eQuest as a personal growth experience, also think of it as a research methodology that will guide you in that academic study of your issue. Similar to conducting a traditional experiment (as you learned about in other research methods courses), eQuest is a specific structure or format for you to conduct research on that issue. But unlike an experiment, YOU will be a subject in that research! You will be observing and interacting with people and groups online, and you also will be exploring your own personal reactions as you participate in the eQuest program. We call this participant-observation research. It is a type of "qualitative" research - as opposed to "quantitative" research which involves statistical analyses.

Throughout the project, we will be considering how your academic understanding of your topic, your personal understanding of how the topic relates to you and your life, and the kind of lifestyle you develop in cyberspace, are ALL related to each other. Keep this in mind throughout your project. It is the essence of your participant-observation research.

The Components of eQuest
There are a variety of components to eQuest. At the top of this page you will see a jump menu linking to pages that describe each of them. The schedule page will guide you through these eQuest components. Throughout the project, reread these pages to refresh your memory.

Progress reports
Stay in touch with me during your project! Whenever you like, feel free to stop by office to talk. Once a week I'd like you to e-mail me a progress report in which you briefly describe what is happening in each of the ten components of eQuest. Also talk about the various exercises that eQuest recommends that you try. And if you ever run into problems in cyberspace - especially with people or groups that you encounter - be sure to contact me!

Remember that email is not 100% reliable. Due to spam filtering and other technical problems, email may be delayed or get lost. If you don't receive my email in reply to your email within 24 hours, something probably went wrong. Please resend your message.

Your Feedback is Welcome!
If anything about eQuest doesn't make sense to you, or if something in this website doesn't seem to be working right, let me know! Your feedback will help me improve it.