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The Evolution of Education: Use of Biofeedback in Developing Heart Intelligence in a High School Setting

Marc W. Ross

Ph.D. Dissertation, Educational Division University of Calgary, June 2011

For a PDF version of the complete paper, click here.

Abstract

This dissertation was born out of years of working with students, sharing my experience of becoming a quadriplegic. My goal was to encourage young people to think about their choices and avoid unsafe risk-taking activities. I felt a gap in my role as mentor to these junior high and high school students; no one was teaching them skills that might assist them in making good choices. Having engaged in spiritual practices for many years, and having a particular interest in newer technologies such as biofeedback, I therefore developed a research question that might provide a useful strategy for youth: How might the development of heart intelligence through the use of biofeedback in a high school setting be facilitated and encouraged?

The research topic demanded a theoretical and methodological approach that was sensitive to uncovering and understanding abstract constructs such as heart intelligence and psychophysiological coherence. I blended together integral theory – specifically Wilber’s integral model – with Gadamer and Heidegger’s hermeneutic ontology/epistemology, and the consequent hermeneutic phenomenological methodology, into an original qualitative explanatory framework that I named – integral hermeneutic phenomenology. Using indepth face-to-face interviews, focus group discussions, interactions on Facebook, and conversations via e-mail, I gathered the personal accounts of the evolution and expression of the development of heart intelligence in my 15 participants: students and staff at the school site. I also kept track of participants’ experiences of learning to operate biofeedback technology and enter the state of coherence.

I then analyzed and interpreted the themes arising from these interactions, so as to compose an integral synthesis of the results for each participant and the group as a whole. The data uncovered eight primary themes:

  • achievement of active relaxation and peaceful state of coherence
  • connection between coherence and heart-based living and other spiritual practices/interests
  • glimpses of potential and possibility for health benefits through heart-based living
  • importance of will or personal motivation in the practice of coherence building
  • need for guidance and encouragement from peers, teachers and the school culture in order to live more from the heart
  • effect of developing heart intelligence on relationships with peers, teachers and family
  • challenges and opportunities with the biofeedback computer technology
  • influence of the environment on participants’ attempts to practice coherence.
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    These themes were situated within the quadrants of the integral model that served to shed light on the personal, interpersonal and societal nature of the data. The data also revealed some important considerations for how best to implement this kind of training in a high school setting.

    Based on the experiences of the 15 participants, it would appear that biofeedback and the development of heart intelligence can be powerful agents for enabling people to consciously experience the absence of stress, and for supporting those who are motivated in their efforts to live healthier, more balanced and spiritually fulfilling lives. Done properly, this kind of training could assist youth in their struggles towards making good choices and achieving independence. Staff could use the skills personally to deal with the many stresses of being educators, as well as assisting young people in their growth. Potentially, this type of training and focus beyond pure academic content could be a small part of the evolution of educational systems toward a more human-friendly environment.