Title Quote: SpiceyNoodleSoup

As I write this, students in their Project Teams are far along in their internal dynamics – my comments today reflect back upon where we were nearly two weeks ago, when the small group plummet began. Inevitably, there was confusion. Nonetheless, in fairly short order the new structure of the class emerged, with students ‘nexting’ from the (traditional school-learning) self-focused individual phase into a collaborative ‘oh we’re really in this together’ team phase.

The first team-building assignment (5:3) asked students to read each other’s summaries of a variety of articles on the topic of “exhaling” and my lecture on “nexting.” The idea was to work with (textbook author) John Stewart’s metaphor of interpersonal communication as breathing: as a live, organic process with the qualities of a chicken/egg mutual dynamic. Which comes first (for instance), the team project assignment or the orientation of students to the fact of a project? I continue to teach in the mode of a reflective practitioner, designing the curriculum as a reflective conversation between me with the knowledge demonstrated by students (singly and in aggregate). The second team-building assignment (6:1/6:2) involved reading John Robison’s book, look me in the eye, and figuring out how to continue (now, in the midst of all this complexity and confusion and comprehension).

Note: for kicks (and

to protect anonymity, and

preserve grammar)

I have made everyone’s gender female.


First, the mechanics: model responses were provided by DeliverMeSummer (for 5:3) and Shiny Ginger (for 6:1/6:2) yet every student made important and insightful contributions. I cannot mention everything (there is simply too much!), so what follows are what struck me as highlights: either for their power of summary or their significance in pointing to present (current, active) dynamics. A different person would select an alternative set of highlights (some quotes/paraphrases might overlap, but definitely others would not, and the overall picture would have a distinctive quality no matter how much commonality exists).

The Gymnasium (as I’ve adapted her blogname to reflect my sense of her foundational contributions to our class as a group), wrote: “Just when I thought I knew enough to successfully communicate, I realize I can still learn much more…” JohnnieDrama is rather more explicit:

you will see the ulterior motives which Steph decided not to express to us. She needed to butter us up before she bamboozled us with group projects.

Cake problematizes the conspiracy theory, arguing that if I had intentionally misled everyone, then I would be guilty of stereotyping. Or maybe Cake meant all of you would be guilty of stereotyping?! Cake also names the power dynamic: “because Steph controls our grades . . . we did as she told us.” I omitted part of Cake’s statement (notice the ellipses), because I suspect the sheer fact of The Grade carries the most influence. Evidence of this power continues to roll in via email and the in-class logistics thread, with pleas not to be held accountable for teammates’ less than ideal performance, or penalized for missing assignments (every one has a good reason, of course), or because of problems with the technology . . .

What I want to highlight is the obedience factor. (From this you can now extrapolate my general critique of most public education.) Hmmmm. The omitted part of Cake’s critique now becomes relevant: “…and she knows what she’s doing…” Well, thank you (I think!), but let me clarify: I do not “know” in the sense of being able to predict without error but perhaps I do “know” on the basis of training and experience. I know the structure that schooling imposes, and I know the roles students are trained to take. I trust your intelligence, too.

So, I am not surprised that President Makalele (for instance) can summarize,

“We have learned the tie-ins with active listening, nexting and consequentiality and as a result, more and more people are realizing what to look for in respect to these three ideas when reading something they are going to respond to. The first blog posts contained for example, instances of nexting but nobody knew that they were doing it.”

or that OuterBodyBoi can come up with her own metaphor:

Communication is like fencing. You have to set things up correctly in order to harness true power and effectiveness.”

Well, if I have “misled” you to this point of harnessing true power and effectiveness (!) I guess I am doing my job alright, eh? 🙂 Masr describes why this online mode of studying interpersonal communication enables such deep learning:

“While online, you have the advantage of being able to read what you’re interlocker says as many times as you please, and than using nexting on your own time.”

There’s a typo in that sentence which is amusing because of its truth: once you begin communicating with someone (or refuse to do so) you are locked into a relationship of some kind. The “kind” is where interpersonal communication allows us latitude: we can move by establishing new positions, finding different orientations, discovering alternative perspectives. On the basis of this interrelational social fact, interpersonal communication theorists can claim that our interlocutors make us who we are.

The parameters of identity are fixed by who we communicate with (and who we don’t), as well as by how we conduct the communication process. Recognizing a pattern of redundancy, for instance, as SABoy did with the limited range for expressing emotion presented by our deeply-americanized textbook, becomes impossible if one is only always communicating within an homogenous group. Consequentially, expressing emotion in “an American way” (if I can make a rather large leap here for the purposes of illustration) makes one “American” more than, for instance, the originary fact of citizenship that is supposedly ascribed at birth. This is one basis for how/why discrimination remains a real problem: identity is ascribed (by others) as much (and sometimes moreso) than the avowals we make for ourselves.

Our surprise guest – thank you John, for being here! – muses:

It’s worth considering whether a person like me – with communication challenges that result from some kind of neurological difference – would have benefited from a class like this, long ago.

In face-to-face versions of this course and others, I have had students with Asperger’s Syndrome. My experience is that they have benefited, and their presence intensifies the learning for everyone. Including me 🙂 The challenge of mediating the differences that are brought into view by people who do not follow the norms is (in my opinion) the point of interpersonal communication as well as being its disciplinary contribution to human society.


We will end next week (finals) but today is officially the last day of class. You could enter the wikicreation of our class through the homepage, or you can come in through the lens of any number of individual characters who composed the group. All I can tell you is that our group is full of “functional people“!

“…being confused or having vagueness constantly only forces us to do more. We don’t need a teacher or boss telling us what to do, we actually have the skills to take the initiative ourselves.” (moses84)

Peers introduce each other in the comments that follow.

Here’s a great example of moving web-based communication into communities in the ‘real world.’

Thanks, Arturo, for this post on The Flying Pickle!

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?

Check out this series of 60-Second Science videos that rock.

Episode 6
includes news on the global seed vault, the apocalyptic potential of Apothos, how to shoot a bacterium in the head, and robotic suicide bombers.

Episode 5

highlights from a big science conference, sharing info through social networks =? herd behavior/hive mind? Digg ratings on 60secondscience…

Episode 4

new dinosaurs – highlighting the carnivores, camping in the wilderness, hotornot dating preferences, heat measuring high impact map (how we’re screwing up the oceans), and virtual patients for doctor training.

Episode 3

meds and malaria, “Who shrank the superpower?”, artificial intelligence and videogames, and marrying your third cousin.

Episode 2

death by sitting,  neuron-by-neuron brain slicing, free will or robot, and the persistence of creationists.

Episode 1

news on the safety of cloned food despite “subtle genetic changes”, peanut butter jelly time,  yeast years, and facebook: do you exist?

Meanwhile, my favorite media about the internet has not yet been displaced: Web 2.0: The Web is Us/ing Us

Landscapes of Violence Interdisciplinary Conference

FREE! (Registration required) You can register via Facebook

We are inviting you to attend a conference organized and co-sponsored by Anthropology and Psychology of Peace and Violence departments at UMass Amherst. The conference presenters will address a range of issues related to origins and development of violence, its consequences, as well as the ways to prevent it. This conference will explore the current and future potential of academe to mitigate human rights issues, provide essential services to national and international governments, and broaden the dialog between different academic disciplines on this campus.

We have arranged for world renown experts in violence, warfare, genocide, and trauma research to present their work at UMass Amherst.

“I explore cultural borderlands in hopes of unveiling the promise concealed in their very inchoate potential,” writes Brooks. “Transformations seem everywhere on the verge of realization—new ethnogenetic identities, alternative families, symbiotic communities and economies, and a widespread refusal to accept the hegemony of the nation-state as a central organizing principle in everyday life.”

James F. Brooks

ritual violence and sacred space
(Reflecting on growing up in northern Ireland):
“politics is almost exclusively framed in terms of competing rights and democracy is therefore understood to mean that the will of the majority will prevail. Tolerance of difference is, as a result, in short supply.”
“Addresses the connections between communication patterns & more general social conditions, with analysis of types of communication, their meanings, & associations with ethnicity & class.”
Note! Dr. Donald Ellis’s work was highlighted in a presentation on Wiki: Crossing the Boundary between Personal and Mass Communication.
explaining war:

“I have tried to develop rigorous, testable theory to explain war, both as a recurrent aspect of the human condition, and in specific cases-why actual wars happen. This has had three major components. One is a basic materialist hypothesis, which is summed up as ‘wars occur when those who decide to start a war believe it is in their practical, material self-interest to do so.’ This calls attention to the political structure of decision-making and the total interests of decision-makers.”

Brian Ferguson

Crimes of Obedience: Toward a Social Psychology of Authority and Responsibility

re: “social influence and attitude change, with an emphasis on the distinction between different processes of influence; on the relationship of action to attitude change; and on conceptions of personal responsibility for actions ordered by legitimate authorities.

Poor health and disease are, in almost every manifestation, related to ideology, inequality, and power. Poor health is often shorthand for dominance, a proxy for social status, or related to differential access to resources. By its very nature, it is embedded with meaning . . .”
Excerpts above are from a range of distinguished guest, including: Dr. James F. Brooks, Dr. David Carrasco, Dr. Ed Cairns, Dr. Andrew Darling (of The Writing Machine??), Dr. Donald Ellis, Dr. Brian Ferguson, Peter Jimenez (is he part of SK8Mafia?!), Dr. Herbert Keleman (mispelled?), Dr. Debra Martin, Tito Naranjo, and Dr. Tony L. (?) Whitehead. Among local speakers are the representatives of 15 different departments from 5 colleges.
The conference will take place April 3-5, 2008. The registration is FREE, however is required.

Class #6 wasn’t pretty (although an argument for beauty could be made!)

It wasn’t all that ugly, either. 🙂 We made progress. Some boundaries collapsed – particularly near the end of the second fishbowl (ostensibly about “content” for the coursewiki), and they were certainly not reinstated during the third fishbowl (ostensibly about evaluating “process”). Ostensibly, I write, because the structure provided by the teacher was ignored. Not only did participants choose not to use questions from me, they refused and revised the task I had established!

Some time will pass before we get to observers’ reports; I had to be amused when one student teased about the rash of self-oriented behavior mere minutes (!) after I had abolished the Schein Team charged with observing self-oriented behavior (in favor of enhancing the observation of task and maintenance behavior and roles). Engagement was high. Observers violated the imaginary walls of the “fishbowl” to debate openly with the “fish” – and I participated (gasp!) in this minor meltdown of what little structure we have. I am not immune! There is one model of “consulting” about group relations that seeks to minimize participation of the “consultant” as much as possible; I am not living up to that ideal. Another model encourages interaction from the “facilitator” to guide and redirect individual’s focus away from others to their own behaviors (conscious and otherwise). Similar to the consultant model, the facilitator is supposed to keep their own participation minimal. I’m not doing that, either. I’m attempting a hybrid. My focus is still on the group-as-a-whole (consultant mode), yet the inevitability of my involvement (since I do have to evaluate their learning in order to assign grades) necessitates facilitation.

The frustration felt by most members of class was significant and obvious. (I hesitate to say everyone felt frustrated, but it is possible.) I expressed my own frustration in one particular direction (against the “discourse” that first gained prominence and hence seemed to presume inevitability)… it took me reading the results of Test Six to realize my attention was focused only on the most visible or obvious evidence of a deeper matter.

The results of the Test are extraordinary (I think). The first question asked students to evaluate the first fishbowl of the day (concerning After Dachau), regarding whether participants had sufficiently used the reading of an assigned course text to make progress towards defining the gist (heart, core, vital essence) of the ultimate group project.

If we’re going to rely on numbers, most students (15) did not think the fishbowl participants made “substantial progress” although a third of those present did think so (7). Strikingly, the numbers almost reverse for the following fishbowl (ostensibly concerning content), with 12 agreeing that there was evidence of time spent thinking about the gist, and the other half of the class split among disagreeing (only 4, overtly; two more conceding partial evidence; and 4 – ohmgod – admitting they had no idea what “gist” was being referred to).

No wonder I felt like pulling my hair out!

Note: the conclusion to this blogpost was written in consistency and consensus: mutually exclusive?

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