March 2008

Ok – the fishbowl accomplished much (even though there was no formal decision-making process since we got started with it so late in the session).

Defining the target audience was the first task taken up by Fishbowl K. Instead of aiming “out” to a particular demographic of any kind, the proposal was made to imagine ourselves as the audience. No formal decision-making process was undertaken on this point, however the theme was raised several times in a variety of ways. Also repeated often was the need to form smaller working groups, divvy up the labor, and get going already! (I exaggerate the urgency for effect; the energy seemed more tired than actually impatient.)

Target: “us as a group working together,” “what we put together shows us; will show what we have learned,” “if the scope is narrow, we increase the chance of success,” “breaking down into smaller pieces doesn’t mean the audience will be smaller,” “other people will be looking at us,” “how I fit in, my affiliations,” “expressing our own niche,” “how we survived UMass – we are surviving it!” A 360° view.

Content is still a bit vague but we’re getting closer with the idea of everyone bringing in what has been their own personal main interests while here at UMass. The labeling still seems difficult, for instance “personal page” really isn’t intended to be like myspace or such. More like, “each of us represents a bigger group at UMass,” so find who you’ve got connections with in-class and work with the “dynamic among each other,” showing off our own diversity with a focus on how we work together.

Structure: didn’t get that much attention but some ideas were tossed out, such as imagining a format like a magazine, “the wiki itself [being] like a fishbowl,” and having a randomly generated ‘front page,’ like wikipedia. Debate was broached about whether we need to have a coherent scope before beginning subgroup work, or whether starting the subgroup work will lead us in the direction of a absolutely clear goal. It was suggested that a subgroup who is particularly interested in the content of the course could develop a mission statement of some kind, meanwhile individuals should make decisions within their subgroups.

Most students in the fishbowl seemed ready to shift the focus away from a primary concern with audience-as-someone-else to a more “inward” look at ourselves and each other. A question that was originally raised in the negative as a concern, “I don’t know what I can say to you about ____ that you don’t already know or would want to know,” could (?) be turned around to serve as some kind of measure for what to put in the wikiwebsite:

What do I want to say (tell, show, etc) to you (my groupmates) about

my life and learning here at UMass and/or in this class?

So far, I’ve emphasized the agreements and packaged them accordingly. A disagreement was aired concerning a narrowing of the target audience from incoming undergrads to just us. Several attempts were made to accommodate this view, including it being fine if anyone wants to focus on an external audience – this could be their thing. Doing so would represent part of the diversity of the group, and even be an illustration of things we’re learning in the class. Explanations were offered such as “not necessarily writing only to the class, because other people will still read” depending upon their interests. Each “page” (or each subgroup’s work) will draw certain audiences and other pages/work will appeal to different audiences. Someone argued that keeping the audience large would actually work against us being creative.

Finally, evaluation was brought up at the very end. Do you want to count hours as a way to assess quality of work? Is this a fair way to assign grades?


I am catching up on blogpost credit, and coming across a few extra credit posts and/or posts made after the due date.

We have to decide the extent to which the information in these posts “matters” to the frame, norms, and eventual product that we will create. For instance, replying to “Time to DECIDE….”, vertebralsilence critiques my inclusion of a

“seemingly important concept and a link at the very bottom of a post that already has several comments (as opposed to, for instance, as an actual blog post). Because we have no means of being updated to new comments…”

I cannot recall my logic at the time, but I certainly agree that freedom of online speech
deserves more attention than a comment. (I might have anticipated that you would be assigned to re-read these comments and thus would come across the link in due time.)

Churchofgoogle was already addressing the challenge of organizing all our information and ideas, and akademakid put in a plug for Davos and youtube, along the lines of improving the world (a sentiment several of you did express, all the way “back then” (!) in Week 4 – Feb 19-25).

An extra credit entry on one of the cultural term analysis for “bitch” suggests an active incorporation of this term into the coursewiki frame.  Meanwhile a late post weighed in on “love,” bumping that term’s prominence in class (quantitatively) to number 1!






There is now more going on in the talk of our class than I can track alone. The proliferation of assignments, blogposts, fishbowls and all of everyone’s ideas has served to provide an incredibly dense and potentially powerful matrix for us to transform into some kind of cooperative product.

I am pleased that the concept of frames or framing was mentioned in several of the individual proposals. We have some resources already available in the part of the coursewiki that I’ve been developing:

  • although we did not use the label (I don’t think?), some elements of our frame as a group was established on the first day of class
  • Goffman’s concept of framing was introduced as relevant and applied in Week 4
  • also during the 4th class, we began to recognize some of our own emergent norms

My mind has been spinning all week with the conversation we began trying to distinguish among representation, symbolism, and mimesis. Do we want to (re)produce something of art or something of knowledge? Can we attempt both? I saw a hint of art/knowledge in “Let’s Be Serious.” If you read the post with “Busy” playing in the background, there is a juxtaposition of different kinds of knowledge (different modes of knowing?). What emerges from the mix is an interesting kind of timespace, eh? A moment is created for the reader/viewer/listener of the mediated “space” that conveys more than is actually said. Could we do something like that? If we wanted to, what is the “feel” that we might seek to create?  Ch0c0latemilk commented on the favorite songs track that playing during WikiLab #1, “The music is making me want to type fast.”  Do we want to provide a uniform sensory experience for our audience?  If so, why, what, and how?  If not, again, why, what, and how?

I wonder if a next step is to start configuring working design teams? How? (Feel free to make specific recommendations and/or provide organizational criteria.)

  1. The moment was beautiful. 🙂 Was Alex the one who asked? [No, it was Tony. :-)] I paused, taking the question seriously. He was teasing, but my writing on the board had been more-or-less horizontal up until that point, so why was it different? Well, I explained that having this particular conversation was a deviation from the plan, I had not built time for a digression into the day’s schedule. I was rushing! I also wanted to convey a sense of temporal motion (as in a graph), and (I don’t think I said this at the time), I did not want to say a bunch of stuff the students had already read, so was attempting to say enough (because the dynamic seemed to call for it) but not too much (being boring, repetitive, or on my own personal trip).
  2. The question indicated an important shift of authority relations within the group. Not that I am not still “the teacher” in terms of role, but it had become ok to question the authority figure. My behavior is not immune to interrogation. I can imagine the curiosity as a prelude to my inclusion in the fishbowl (“J”), which also represents a kind of leveling-of-the-field across roles, status, and maybe (?) identities. I think we can be optimistic that such a development bodes well for the course project and our continued learning together.
  3. Now, just because it happened once does not mean it will always happen, or even that it is always possible! We, within our intragroup dynamics, may go through more storming-type phases, and we might even encounter some inter-group dynamics as we get serious about what to include/exclude from the coursewiki. Also – as I hope to continue to emphasize – every group is different, composed of individuals with unique histories encountering each other at particular times of life. As we are experiencing with each other, creating an environment in which deep collaboration can grow is a serious challenge!
  4. Now, the question about writing sideways can also be developed symbolically (in addition to the representational analysis provided above). I actually felt a surge of recognition, as if I was named. I teach “sideways,” probably because I learn sideways, and possibly because I have experienced myself ‘on the sides’ (the boundaries, the margins) much more often than I have felt I was “inside.” (I kinda figger I got “outside” down.) Just to give a wild example, I was reading homework assignments and came across Sedona1’s teaser for her cultural analysis, “Martians inhabit the moon, but that’s just my opinion.” Now, I won’t ‘go there,’ but “Martians” and “moon” could send me off on a trajectory of knowledge acquisition related to stone circles and astronomy (UMass boasts the only sunwheel in North America)…my guess is that most people think about their own things, and only cooperate in terms of topic when there is some reason to do so. John Elder Robison describes this eloquently in his book, Look Me in the Eye.
  5. There are many fascinating elements to his story – I’m curious which aspects will intrigue you the most! I found his descriptions of learning how to accomplish successful interpersonal communication compelling. He explains figuring out things that many (most?) people take for granted (and academics spend years trying to understand). For instance,

    “…at nine years of age, I had a life-changing revelation.

    I figured out how to talk to other children.

    I suddenly realized that when a kid said, ‘Look at my Tonka truck,’ he expected an answer that made sense in the context of what he had said.” (p. 20)

  6. Robison’s tendency was to answer “with whatever I had been thinking.” This is not so different, in my mind, from people who simply say the first thing that comes to mind. Neither response involves any anticipation – there is no forward-in-time quality of considering how the thing one says might lead to a certain kind of outcome, be it as mundane as a polite social interaction or as intense as a long-term relationship. And then, even within the range of possible responses that one might choose among, hoping that they might lead to the outcome you want (or at least one that you dimly perceive or otherwise don’t outright dislike), you can still get it wrong. Remember in the discussion of time and timing (“continuity of experience”), when I was explaining how I thought I had designed a clear pathway from the fishbowl on After Dachau to the next fishbowl on the coursewiki? Aly said, “Steph, sometimes people don’t understand!” Well, ain’t that the truth! Robison describes his interaction with Laurie and his dilemma of responding to the news of the affair or the information about the motorcycle (chapter 20: Logic vs Small Talk). Maybe this is a stretch, but our talking about the “survival guide” had a similar “shape,” don’t you think?
  7. Ok, now, to get to our next task. Do you have the distinction down, between a long-term task and the practical decisions that need to be made to actually achieve it, and the immediate tasks that much be attended to as required by the fluid and unpredictable moment-by-moment process? The “decision” by the class to impose structure on a situation that had become untenable (i.e., too confusing for too long) was a short-term solution that may or may not have worked toward an effective outcome. Sometimes this kind of forced decision-making will still lead to results – maybe because it has to, maybe because people are used to it, in the sense of being resigned to certain supposed “truths” . . . we heard some of these, right? “We can never reach consensus in a group this large;” “some people will just have to go along with what’s good for the majority,” and other, similar sentiments. Time constraints and limits are often invoked. The trick is to learn – as a group – when and how to shift back-and-forth between the immediate needs of the membership (maintenance tasks) and the longer-term decisions and actions (“just task me“) that move the group toward its ultimate goal.
  8. In class, we will have gone over a bit of evaluation concerning the homework assignment on reporting and applying a critical analysis of cultural terms. Your assignment now is to combine (or juxtapose) the key elements of this post with the important terms of your own and your peer’s individual proposal for the coursewiki (based on the activity of peer review completed in class). The terms generated some interesting stuff! For me, anyway (!) – although I’m not too worried that you’ll be left in the lurch. You are all decent people with fascinating points-of-view.
  9. I am particularly intrigued that no one selected the term “hate” or the term “religion.” Does this put them in a category unto themselves? What are the reasons these two terms were unappealing? The popular terms chosen were “hippie,” “love,” and “opinion,” with three each. Do these three terms reflect something about our class or the individual themself? A combination of both? Or neither?
  10. Outliers always fascinate me, so beyond the two terms that were not picked at all, only one person from class wrote about the critical cultural analyses of “Arab,” “busy,” “fuck,” “green,” “liberal,” “shame,” and “western.” Receiving two entries each are “bitch,” “queer,” and “wicked.”
  11. A few of you engaged the critical element of the assignment in your application of the analyses to our group dynamics, but I don’t recall anyone mentioning the cultural element? These are aspects of the large social forces that “act” upon any group; to be proficient in perceiving group dynamics, the presence of what we label culture, origin, history, and identity (to list some of the possibilities) must be considered. Whether or not the particularities of what composes the example or instance of, say, identity, is of significance to the group is a matter of the fluid unfolding of interaction in space, through time.
  12. I wonder what came to mind when you read the list for the first time, and then when you (in your Teams) divvied up the choices? Were you already being critical, e.g., aware that this is a list of terms generated by US Americans (as far as I know) about terms that they understand are deeply cultural? With that framework in mind (yes, as in framing), I wonder at the spread of selection and relative ranking we see with the choices that were made. Twenty-two of 28 (enrolled) students is 78% of the class, not bad for getting a group-as-a-whole “measurement.” The words you were required to select among were generated by UMass undergrads last fall (2008), so they come from (if you will) “your generation,” with the added quality of being chosen by people who have actually traveled abroad: in other words, they have gained a window on us (as “Americans”) because they have been outside the house and experienced a sample of how others perceive us.
  13. Working with these small numbers (not “reliable” in terms of generalizing to other groups, but a strong indication of what’s happening among our particular group), and assuming some representational power on the basis of simple interest:
  14. 40% of the energy of the class might be engaged with
    • matters of opinion concerning love and hippiedom?
    • questions of loving our own opinions and being hip enough to share them?
    • resisting the challenges of loving and questioning authority (as hippies are renowned for doing?)
  15. Meanwhile, six other members of the class (27%) converged on an alternative “set” of terms:
    • the bitches and queers are wicked?
    • isn’t it queer that there are wicked bitches among us?
    • this queer class is wicked bitchin! (?)
  16. Finally, all those single votes represent a bloc of their own, seven single entries aggregated is 32% of the students completing this activity. The list references (or points toward, i.e., indexes) identity, nationality, sexuality, emotions, and politics.
  17. Now, do we make some kind of meaningfulness of this tripartite subdivision of the class or choose to discard the information because of the random nature by which it came about? There is randomness in these results, right? Each of you gravitated (presumably) to a term you wanted to write about, even if you did not get your first choice…correct? Where did that desire come from? Can we simply eliminate the possibility that some force in the group – some element of our dynamics – inspired you, somehow, to take up that particular term?
  18. Let’s take the unaligned group first. Are there relationships among the terms that were only picked once? I know (again) that only random occurrence gave us “shame” as the first term that was posted, but I wonder . . . are we (at least some of us?) experiencing some shame because of some of the things that are being learned in this course? I’m also interested in the polarization between “Arab” and “western.” Ontherecliner wrote, “the notion of a “westerner” is a way to separate people. It is a way to say things that are not {a]like…” and Apoulos got me thinking about what we are willing to say about the cultural, national, ethnic, and religious differences among us. Another intriguing juxtaposition that could be connected to the dynamics of what words we use and their implications are the entries on “green” and “fuck.” We all know fuck is a loaded term whose use might offend someone, but who is aware that the use of “green” in another context might led to “a bullet in the head“? Fuck could also be related to “busy.” Febreezethesituation contributes the most creative response to this assignment. Now, you’ve gotta decide if you discern the same logic that I do (!), but check this out: “western” as a way to separate, willingness to say things (especially about identities), being green (environmental, also (gasp!) a rookie), and addressing sex openly = liberal.
  19. Moving on to the middle group, with two entries each, let’s pose another hypothesis for what might be going on . . . more sex, for one thing, or at least something strange. Hippo86 offers a critique of political correctness, and Abccccc describes challenges of perception. Both students are dealing with issues regarding the naming of sexual orientation. Gender elicits a similar amount of attention. There seems to be a debate about what it means to be called a bitch – or maybe I am trying to make it a debate?(!) Funinsun seems to imply that “being a bitch” is bad, period. Summer22 got out of the gate right behind “shame,” with a posting that exposes some of the risks of engagement with the label’s actual usage. Is it surprising that wicked would eventually make an appearance?! Thumpasorus gets us thinking about the worthiness of going through the labor of actually hashing out the range of meanings for any given term. Bradytomoss makes an intriguing distinction between uses of “wicked” to label someone else’s behavior (e.g., ‘you bad sinner, you’) and uses of ‘wicked’ to express a state-of-being or perception (although I have to admit I am not sure if Thumpasorus meant to suggest that New Englander’s stupidity is wicked good or wicked bad).
  20. Finally, now, we come to the largest “mass” of students, three each on – am I wrong?!? – the groovy terms of love, opinion, and hippies. Multiple meanings of the term came up right away, and some synonyms are provided by aligirl22. Samesies wonders if the term will appear in our group’s dynamic, and ch0c0latemilk notices how carefully people are “editing our thoughts in order to make sure we communicate with each other in an ‘acceptable’ way.” This caution seems like it could be linked with the posts concerning the expression of opinion, eh? Ehanft articulates the difference between ‘opinion’ and ‘fact,’ suggesting we might need to formalize (?) some way of ranking the ideas people offer. Princess3 questions the prevalence of opinion-offering in our group to date. For me, this raises the question of how functional opinion-giving is at this point in our group’s development? Perhaps a sharper question is, at what moment does opinion-giving serve the group, and at what moments (or, under what circumstances) does opinion-giving serve a personal need at the expense of the group? Finally, I am absolutely intrigued that Sedona1 suggests that there is a root meaning of “opinion” based in the institution of law. Talk about a powerful frame! Are we justified in wallowing around in the uncertainty of opinion (!) because the practice of giving opinions is validated (i.e. ritualized) by our very legal system?
  21. Not quite last, and certainly not least, are the entries on hippies. Churchofgoogle makes the crucial point that we often do not notice terms because they are used so casually. The imagery of “wicked” is invoked by the posting title, Damn Hippies. Brucebanner87 remarks on how often the term is in use around campus, and I noticed a subtle distancing of this term from the discourse within our group. Are we afraid of this term? Don’t want to be associated with it? Freshkicks seems, alternatively, to celebrate the term: is it cool to be “she pea”?
  22. That does complete an introductory look at the terms selected and applied to our group dynamic from the model of a critical, cultural analysis. However, I do want to remind us of the two missing pieces: the overlooking terms of “hate” and “religion.” Are these concepts and their effects “outside” of our group? Irrelevant? Unimportant? It is up to you, each of you, to make some meaningfulness of all this information. I’ve collected and organized an extensive sample of our group’s discourse – the way we talk with each other, within the boundaries of the course topic (“Group Dynamics”), the structured assignments, and our fluid process of group development. Reading about your peers thinking on these topics “ought” (in my mind!) inform the ways you/we design the final coursewiki project. I hope you will reflect, here, on ways to mold the individual proposals (linked from replies to “Progress! a “Working Definition“) into a coherent and sensible group endeavor.

These decision charts are used by the Institutional Review Board to assess proposals for research involving human subjects in terms of their accord with regulations.

Hmmm.  Interesting follow-up to a conversation in the course on communication policy I’m taking about how access to and use of resources works in conjunction with social identities to either enable or disable a secure lifestyle: The Rank-Link Imbalance, by David Brooks.

The question also applies to this class on Group Dynamics: will we be able to use our knowledges to create trajectories that move us into desired futures?

We could do some kind of map mashup, using tools described in The New Cartographers.

Materials Production: A System in Crisis (youtube video, The Story of Stuff).

A 48-hour blog-project on Darfur – could be linked with oncampus activities? I know at least one student has written about this…in one of those previous wikicourses….

A site combining art and activism: Project Global Cooling.

Citizen journalism: Upton Sinclair, Now Playing on YouTube ~ the power of a good video.

Created by students in Mari Casteneda’s Spanish-language Media/Latino Cultural
Production course last semester:

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