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Guest Editorial

Creating a Global University for Online Learning in Community Practice

Creating a Global University for Online Learning in Community Practice

In promoting global practice, much of our work is online. This successful journal itself is a primary example.  But our journal is read by people like us who are already doing community practice.  So how could we expand online learning to the many millions – or billions – of people who could benefit from our community psychology knowledge and skills?

Here is one way. Suppose we envisioned a global university in community practice and community development.  This proposed university would be a collaborative effort across countries. Instruction would take place in general community skills, applicable to most cultural settings with adaptation. Emphasis would be on practical action skills, that people could use back where they live. These skills would be taught online, using uniform curriculum materials. The opportunity to learn these skills would be available to anyone. Learning would be self-paced. Certification would be available upon completion.

Does this sound ambitious? I’d surely agree. But it could happen. And we plan to take some first steps at the International Community Psychology Conference in Barcelona in June. If you will be there, we warmly invite you to join us. If not, we just as warmly welcome your thoughts and ideas.

Of course, in a global university, many details would need to be worked out:  content, costs, recruitment, translation, marketing, monitoring, evaluation, certification, and sustainability are some examples. We do not underestimate these issues; nor will it be possible to resolve them in a single conference session. For even if details were agreed upon, it would take some significant time to implement a global university in reality.

But consider the benefits that a global university could provide. To mention just five:

  1. expansion of the community building skills, capabilities, and empowerment of community residents;
  2. increased likelihood of local solutions to local community problems;
  3. protection against economic and social adversity, through the development of stronger and more cohesive communities;
  4. possible new international collaborations and partnerships; and
  5. in general, the provision of an integrative idea for community psychology, which if executed properly could stimulate imagination and action on a global level.

Given these benefits, it seems worthwhile to explore this idea. The good news is that many relevant instructional materials are already in place through the Community Tool Box (  and other sources; that is, we already have the online technology to make a global university happen. In theory – and potentially in practice – instruction can now be expanded to a larger scale, at relatively low cost, and with flexible, self-paced instructional timing. We may now be ready to provide such instruction on a global basis.

What might take place at the conference?  A roundtable consisting of Cesareo Fernandez from Cidecot in Leon, Spain, Mayte Vega of the University of Salamanca, Maria Vargas-Moniz of the University Institute in Lisbon, and myself will present the idea.  If there is interest, we envision a multi-national working group to take next steps. This group would do background research, draw upon existing efforts in the European Union and elsewhere, develop an action plan, and report back with specific action recommendations at or before the 2014 international conference.  By that time, it might be possible as well to pilot the idea on a small scale. 

Whether and how we proceed with this idea will be up to all of us. If we move forward, the idea may take different forms from those presented here. All of us on the roundtable will welcome your thoughts and suggestions before, during, or after the conference.  In any event, we think there is the potential to bring community psychologists together from different corners of the world, in a combined international effort to apply our own practice knowledge and skills. Together, we can help meet the social, economic, political, and environmental challenges of our time.


Bill Berkowitz, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Bill Berkowitz
Department of Psychology
University of Massachusetts Lowell
Lowell, Massachusetts, USA

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