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.


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!

I hope the Schein Team on Maintenance Roles has much more than what I’ll share here, and I don’t mean to preempt them, but I do want to comment on the care group members showed to each other yesterday.

First, two of you did remember to watch the clock, so I was able to participate in the candelight vigil “in time” with others around the world. Thank you. 🙂

While you were getting organizing in your Schein Teams, I overheard a comment in the Communication Team concerning a layering of stages of group development. This is a sophisticated notion and I was very pleased to hear it! The Team was discussing how to identify different stages, grappling with the fact that things in real life rarely match theoretical models. What <I>are</i> the relationships between observable behaviors (individual and patterned) and determinations of the status of a group-as-a-whole? Each new fishbowl constitutes a new group: they begin “at the beginning” and could get stuck anywhere along the way. As a subgroup of our entire class/group, their ways of communicating, deciding, switching between maintenance and task roles (to name some categories) can reflect the overall group-as-a-whole stage, or serve to work out particular elements on behalf of all of us, or dash us all back into a previous stage where there might be some unfinished business.

Some of the challenges we are now being faced with concern members who have been absent and return. So much occurs in each class session, and we are trying to attend to so many threads and layers, that keeping up through the wiki – while possible (and encouraged!) – is insufficient by itself. Hopefully, everyone is paying attention to the members of your Team who are not present (for whatever reason), and are proactively doing what you can to keep them in the loop.

Did anyone notice anything interesting about how Fishbowl K proceeded in comparison with Fishbowls H and I (Week Six). Several people chuckled when one of the fishbowl “fish” misspoke while trying to say “diverse” (it came out, initially, as “divorce”). A theory of group relations would not ignore the potential “Freudian slip” quality of this faux paux. There was (wasn’t there?) some tension in Fishbowl K. I was fascinated by what seemed to be almost a reversal of dynamics that had occurred before, including the application of similar strategies but with a markedly changed tone. I thought it significant, later in the Fishbowl, when the same “fish” expressed relief at Sara’s statement that she did not think the coursewiki/webpage had to be comprehensive.  If you noticed something, please reply and share your observations and thoughts! For bonus (!), please quote (or paraphrase) from Weber (on the Life Cycle of Groups/Stages of Group Development) to provide a theoretical ground for the meaning you propose to make of your perceptions. 🙂 Note this information on virtual communities, too.


What to Observe in a Group, by Edgar H. Schein

The Group: A Cycle from Birth to Death by Richard C. Weber. Reading Book for Human Relations Training (Arlington, Va.: National Training Laboratories, 1982), 68-71.

“From radio broadcasting to the internet, the adoption, use, and even the constitution of new technological systems are often influenced, not just by economic and structural factors, but by cultural trends and habits of belief. And because of that, I believe, they can be changed.”

I am trying to keep my hands off the decision-making process of these juniors and seniors in Communication as much as I possibly can. What I mean is, I want to share my perceptions in terms of how particular witnessed behaviors/patterns “fit” particular types of theoretical categories, but I don’t want to skew their visioning in the direction of satisfying me just ’cause I’m the teacher. Well, maybe that’s not entirely true (!), however when we engage that tug-of-war I want them to understand and observe their choices and behaviors in a group-stages frame.

We’re still struggling with the notion of framing and its application/relevance in real-life. I’ve been asked for more concrete examples, even hypothetical ones (in regards to this topic and certain homework assignments). I know examples help – and – pedagogically and in principle, I resist using hypothetical illustrations. The reasons have to do with my belief in the significance of differences between the ritual and transmission models of communication.

Words matter, obviously, in the immediate act of communicating something: the choice of language (technically, diction) – one person (say, the “giver”) either “transmits” a message faithful to what he or she intends or fails to do so. Likewise, others who hear the words either “receive” the “message” as it was “meant,” or fail to do so. If conveying meaning is straightforward, then this linear model of transmission from “here (me)” to “there (you)” suffices:

“What time is it?”


No problem, right? If you want to be fussy, you might notice I wrote 2:10 instead of 2:11 and, if you’re so inclined, possibly infer some additional meaningfulness about me (such as, she thinks approximation is adequate/appropriate in this situation). Generally, a basic answer to a request for information satisfies the form (question:answer), and also suggests an overall frame (time is important, questions about time must be answered directly).

If the response obviously has layers, then interpretation becomes more obvious:

“What time is it?”

“Time for office hours.”

Now, you have to wonder about my stance regarding office hours: are they “good” or “bad”? Do I like or dislike them? Is that response representative of my overall orientation to office hours or a reflection of my attitude in the moment? You cannot decide the “meaning” of the answer without making inferences. Do you decide the “meaning” based on what you know of me, or do you decide the “meaning” based on a projection of your own attitudes? Depending upon the co-created meaningfulness – whether we accomplish “understanding” smoothly or with difficulty – we begin to craft the parameters of possibility for relatedness and communication. If we get into a groove (by repeating any particular dynamic), we set in motion a trajectory for our communication and hence, actually pattern the potentials of social accomplishment.

The theoretical distinction between relying upon a (standard, traditional) transmission model and the alternative (but actually older) ritual model leads to two particular conclusions about the use of hypotheticals:

  1. If I use hypotheticals, I model that the use of hypothetical examples is acceptable. (Yet, this is a common educational frame that I am trying to move us away from because it is based on the linear premise that I can “transmit” a definition to you via a “clear” example.)
  2. If I use hypotheticals, the content of that example could introduce an element into our group dynamic that may or may not be illustrative or representative of our group. (Hence, I prefer to wait until real life examples occur, spontaneously, within our group.)

The underlying point is that words may matter even more than we usually imagine. A colleague provides a primer on why we might care to mess with simple words that illustrates the power of language to establish social realities. The exercise he used with students aims at deconstructing labels; the principle, however, is the same for the pedagogical use of examples, and applies equally well to the particular jargons (phrases, terminologies, slangs, inside jokes, etc.) that any group inevitably develops.

On the last test (#5), someone took advantage of the opportunity to give me feedback to say: “I really, really like the Schein group focused on communication in the sense of body language & so forth. I think this group’s role is vital in bringing something new/interesting to the table.” I agree! 🙂 So far, all the teams have been focused on learning what to observe, and collecting those observations. The next step is to begin to name patterns (if any are clear) and then to speculate about what these patterns might “mean” in terms of showing/teaching us about our own particular group dynamic, and the concepts of group dynamics in general. Everyone (on each team, regardless of your “area”) ought to be developing attentiveness toward phrases, labels, terms, descriptions, or other patterns of speaking that repeat or recur during in-class discussions, weblog postings, and/or any of your Schein Team meetings.

The Christian Science Monitor has profiles on the faith and values of each major candidate for the Presidency of the United States.

Selective election survey reporting by the major news media:

The Polls You Won’t Hear Much About

The first sign I knew about was the SEVIS fee instituted by UMass against international students (only) to pay for their own (!) security monitoring. Successful organizing among graduate students, faculty, and others managed to force the University to retract on this; but international enrollment continues to drop. Even though the discriminatory fee was dropped, the surveillance continues:

Under the auspices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been keeping close tabs on foreign students and their dependents through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). As of October 2007, ICE reported that it was actively following 713,000 internationals on campuses, while keeping more than 4.7 million names in its database.


Seven Steps to a Homeland Security Campus

These dual-purpose officer-agents [of the Pentagon’s “Threat and Local Observation Notice” system (TALON)] have knocked on student activists’ doors from North Carolina State to the University of Colorado and, in one case, interrogated an Iraqi-born professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst about his antiwar views.

Seven Steps to a Homeland Security Campus

Not only are the UMass police armed, but surveillance is increasing on college campuses around the country. In other words, they’re not only watching international students, they’re watching US citizens, too:

The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators reports that surveillance cameras have now found their way onto at least half of all colleges, their numbers on any given campus doubling, tripling, and in a few cases, rising tenfold since September 11, 2001.

Seven Steps to a Homeland Security Campus


Surveillance in the US is for real; check us out compared with the rest of the world…

The 2007 International Privacy Ranking


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