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Human rights education online: Qualitative inquiry into international educators' online learning experiences

, Harvard University, United States

Harvard University . Awarded


I observed the learning experiences of eleven international educators participating in a 12-week online course about human rights education (HRE), and analyzed how they communicated and learned online about context-sensitive and controversial HRE issues through constructivist methods such as critical reflection and peer learning.

I observed online texts and conducted semi-structured telephone interviews, which I analyzed by adapting some ethnographic approaches to investigate how the research participants were explaining their goals for taking this course, their learning processes (with an emphasis on online peer interactions), and their learning results.

My main conclusions are: (1) HRE is indeed a sensitive topic, which is therefore challenging to teach, especially in an online environment because online teaching and learning is still novel to most educators. (2) HRE is controversial because it involves issues of power and privileges. There is an ongoing debate about whether human rights are universal or culturally relative, which often raises the possibility of conflict about whose understanding of human rights should prevail. (3) Power relationships played themselves out in subtle ways in this online course, through prejudices based mainly on country of origin, age, profession, and level of education; through perceived discrimination based on those prejudices; through intimidation resulting from these prejudices and perceived discriminations; through lack of awareness about these prejudices; and through resistance once prejudices became revealed. All of this resulted in a lower level of interactions among course participants than they would have liked and probably than would have been desired to maximize their online learning about HRE. (4) HRE instructors therefore need to manage the emotions that such power issues raise. Emotions are a powerful motivator to learn HRE but can also be overwhelming. Due to the lack of non-verbal communications, online environments make it harder for educators to reveal and share their emotions. (5) Online participants must deal with the interfaces between the online course culture, the educators' local cultures, and the universal human rights culture. Understanding and mediating these cultural interfaces in an online learning environment is therefore critical for HRE instructors.

I conclude with a set of recommendations for online HRE instructors.


Joo, J.E. Human rights education online: Qualitative inquiry into international educators' online learning experiences. Ph.D. thesis, Harvard University. Retrieved March 18, 2019 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

Citation reproduced with permission of ProQuest LLC.

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