Babel for COM375

At the moment, we seem to have lost our only known audience. I am a bit concerned about this, as John was more than a passive reader of our writings: he was seeking engagement and . . . what happened? Perhaps his educational goals (regarding Asperger’s in general) and mine (regarding group decision-making) are simply too far apart? The last topic I had raised in our conversation concerned anticipation as a feature of communication. John had engaged the notion I posed that speaking whatever first comes to mind can be as problematic as speaking whatever one had already been thinking. He (rightly) corrected an overstatement of mine, in which I asserted that both stances lack the quality of anticipation.

Let me provide links to three different explications of the concept: “anticipation” as emotion, “anticipation” as used in the field of artificial intelligence, and “anticipation” as used in medicine, specifically the field of genetics. All three have some relevance to a consideration of the role of anticipation in communication. Storming, for instance, comes about in a group at least partly because of the juxtaposition of several individual expectations, as well as the degree to which structured institutional and cultural norms are recognized or experienced as present/absent. AI applies logic in a strict fashion in order to gauge what and how agents can make conscious decisions about the future, and genetics considers anticipation as a way of labeling the early signs of what will develop later into a disorder. In terms of communication – particularly in terms of the relationships that communication makes possible – anticipation can be divided into two broad categories, which (for simplicity’s sake) I will call “negative” and “positive.” In other words, I can anticipate the worst and craft my communication to either defend against ‘the bad’ or offensively assert ‘the good’ (roughly, what I desire); or I can anticipate the best and design my discourse to minimize ‘the bad’ and emphasize ‘the good.’ (Of course I am proposing these categories as extremes as ends of a continuum along which each of us fluctuate depending on a wide variety of factors – mood, energy, investment, personal history, amount of knowledge/experience, cultural background, etcetera – and all of these in relationship with the circumstances of the immediate situation itself.)

Track back in time with me, because I have to introduce another element of which none of you are yet aware. A colleague responded to the posting of John’s and my email conversation with a spot-on critical analysis; another friend emailed saying she thought I was rather hard on John, since I did not simply accept his offer to come to our class. At the time of those correspondences, none of you (students in the class) knew (yet) that John had contacted me, in other words, that someone is paying attention to what we do. I have been puzzling, can (should?) I bring all these threads of conversation with different individuals to our collective attention? What is the relevance of this particular conversation to group dynamics and, particularly, the processes of decision-making in groups?

I chose to ease us into a confluence of these conversations by assigning a question for the class that was (I thought, at the time) appropriate with where you/we were in our reading of the text (John’s book). I had been caught in the assumption that the title was a challenge to look John in the eye, and was surprised and dismayed to read of the painful associations he has with that particular phrase spoken to him as an unmeetable command. I considered that my experience was probably not unique, and also that there must be other interpretations. I suspected that the range of responses to the title would be interesting and open a window for us to learn something about ourselves. Indeed, the ways you reacted to the title varied! (In case you are wondering, this apparent tangent is within the scope of defining audience for the course webproject! In particular, I intend to illustrate something about “anticipation” and how we may want to consider it seriously as we confirm the scope of the project and begin to implement specific design ideas.)

Meanwhile, I am already talking with John (and my friends outside of class)…I want to bring you all into the conversation with John first…how? I create the next assignment, struggling with how to form a suitable question. I aim to illustrate how “understanding” develops: by and through our mutual struggling through associations, intuitions, assumptions, predictions, taken-for-granted meanings, and surprise developments (such as John Robison reaching out to us (!) from somewhere ‘out there,’ from his timespace ‘outside’ of the boundaries of our group-as-a-whole). The point is that when we forge connections between different events and elements we make them sensible to ourselves and others. If our perceptions and attributions of meaning differ from each other’s, then we are confronted with making choices about whether or not to invest in building something common or letting the differences determine the parameters of relationship.

What the_______?$%#$%^$%^$??

Anticipation. 🙂 In the midst of our (attempted, group-level) conversation with John (in which it is unclear to me how consciously students considered that John MIGHT READ what got written!), several other matters were raised, including goals for the coursewebproject.

“Our goal is to create something AS A CLASS. Not reach out to others.” Really? I like donwayneleach‘s passion for the driving motivation being the actual activity of co-construction, but do we want to totally disregard the audience? As getouttakingshous says: “Communicating what you feel and what you want to achieve does not come naturally. Sure, you can say what you feel and what you want to achieve, but that is not the same as communicating it. Communicating something makes it possible for your audience to feel the same feelings you feel about what you are trying to communicate.”

“…this context is unlike any other…” (Princess3, quoting John Robison)

Does the uniqueness of “this context” have effects on framing? Is there anything about this context being “unlike any other” that is important enough to convey? vertebralsilence argues:

“The difference between my communicative style and instincts and John’s are striking and yet the existence of DIFFERENCE is not exclusive to people on the autism spectrum. This difference exists between all of us – and maybe accounts for a great deal of flawed and failed attempts at communication. Could understanding these differences – isolating them, analyzing them – help us communicate better as a group? (and as individuals in the world at large?)”

Are any of our own “forehead-slapping moments” (churchofgoogle) worth some kind of representation in the coursewebproject? And/or, what about the different modes of communication, as described by sunshine775:

“everyone has different frames and ways of seeing a situation. When I start to engage in a conversation or speech I may say things that people in my audience may not understand or know how to make sense of it. I find it so much easier to sit down at my laptop and type out how I feel. I even find it easier than sitting down with my diary. I have formed some type of relationship where my fingers just fly across the keyboard and my thoughts flow from my head through my fingertips.”

“…the reason communication is difficult,” explains ontherecliner, “is not only do you have to express what you feel, but you also have to do it in a way someone else understands.” thumpasorus agrees that “… the tendency just to communicate in a stream of consciousness…” could be a problem. In other words, how proactively (how much anticipation!) can we garner among ourselves to mold the individual passions and interests of each member of the class into a collective representation?

“The thing is often times people’s reactions have nothing to do with the actual event but rather their own biases based on their own distorted view of reality… Reality occurs out there, what we make of it occurs in the mind. The question I often ask myself is where do I draw the line trying to think for others and act accordingly to that and where do I just say what’s on my mind.” (sedona1)

I would say, we are getting ready to take meanings (from our own minds, along some kind of individual-collective continuum) and put them “out there” as a “reality” which others can experience and interpret. What will we give them to work with?  It may be useful to revisit the what and the how.


Ok ya’all. I’m having a rough day, and I can’t quite organize my time so that my mind can relax and trust everything is going to get done.

I’ve been working, just now, on your peer evaluations. So far I’ve recorded about a third of them. (I did warn you about that study, right?) Here’s the deal. I’m reading them, and I am so proud of you. Honest! I just had a huge upswelling of emotion as I recognize your earnestness to do the task and to think well of each other.

Here’s the game plan:

1) I’m learning how to work with Excel so I can create a spreadsheet that holds the data in such a way that I can manipulate it (you know – that statistical thing) to convey “answers” to certain questions. (I have an excellent tutor, Mr. Christian Wernz, who I’m hoping will actually come talk with us…)

2) I have to apply for the informed consent. Technically, I probably “ought” to have done it already, but that would be following an old, traditional, tired, and literally outdated format for social science research. If we accept as given (as our discipline of Communication supposedly does), that any act of agreement or disagreement is socially constructed, then what I/we have been doing is creating a frame where all of you and one of me (!) can create a study that meets with the broadest permission.

What I mean by that phrase, “broadest permission,” is the largest percentage of informed consent. The best studies (according to a basic assumption of people who like to count) are those with the highest percentage of participation. In reality (well, from the minimal knowledge I have about quantitative research), there are always reasons to discount some of the data. The way I’m interpreting the principle behind the procedures for discounting data, is:

for the purposes of this study in our class, it really is ok if some people don’t want the peer evaluation results included.

Why do I emphasize this point? Because the group-relevant reason I felt that rush of admiration for the way you are all stepping up to the task of peer evaluations (and I do know that this particular activity represents a special task) was that – as much as you want to feel good about each other and allow each other as much benefit of the doubt as possible – you are not letting anyone off the hook.

As I would predict in the early stages of group formation, you are all rating each other generously. This pattern makes those instances of critical feedback particularly significant. When the norm is to accept “whatever it is” that others give (i.e., how much they “contribute”), indicating that you want something either “more” or “different” from another person is risky. I am proud of those of you who have been willing to say something less than ideal about a classmate. And – the kicker is (!) – those of you who have rated your peers uniformly “great” are giving generally strong subjective reasons for these ratings. In other words, you truly accept the participation achieved by your classmates.

I am impressed.

The rigid segmentation of course material into discrete “subjects” provides gaping canyons for student’s intellectual engagement. As the Fall, 2007 semester wraps up, my thoughts leap ahead to the next class and the next group of students. I want to challenge us to think beyond narrow definitions of “group” focused on “identity” to sophisticated notions of “role” and the ways our own day-to-day activities participate interactively with the larger sweep of social and political affairs.

My idea at the moment is to assign the novel, After Dachau (Daniel Quinn), for the first week of class. I read it in about four hours (see excerpt). I also want to show this media analysis from Al-Jazeera, on the divide in US news reporting over the Iran Nuclear Report. Pedagogically, can the students draw parallels between “fiction” and “reality”? In terms of continuity, might I be able to entice some of the students from this semester to keep talking about the important conversations we began?

Evidence of (pedagogical) Ultimate Achievement:

Sigh. I would like to continue to participate in my student’s lives. At least to observe their thinking continue to develop, learn from their experiences and ways of being, and/or possibly be a nudge or resource.

“…as a senior I was pretty confident in the way I had been doing things. When as a senior you have a writing teacher who comes along and basically tells you that you need to think in a new way it is frustrating. Where do I go from here? How do I perfect my new way of thought if I am graduating in a few months?” (keithjagger, Comment 21, keep talking).

“…in both the Junior and Freshman classes, we all had to overcome our own personal obstacles in order to succeed in the class” (pinkpanther89, Comment 6, keep talking). For instance, Gphelan explains, “I started off this year pissed off cause I didn’t know what was going on but I soon realized it was all out of my control and I gave up fighting and it worked out I suppose” (Comment 5, keep talking). Unknown29 sums it up this way: “If you get caught in a bad situation and you have no choice instead of complaining about it you might as well learn something from it” (Comment 3, keep talking).

“WIthout great diverging minds, there is no great learning, and in my mind, because i was able to disagree so freely with people early on in the class, i helped to aid the process of learning. We all have something to learn from eachother, but just because we’re learning, doesnt mean the teaching is coming from someone speaking at you. You dont just sit there and listen, you engage. ENGAGE!” (Oddity33, Comment 24, keep talking).

“Steph’s decision in involving her classes with online media is prepping us for what’s to come. Whether we’re for or against modern technology, we are going to have to adapt to it and somehow become engaged.” (hippo86, Comment 25, keep talking).

“I have learned after this semester that it is okay to be a little confused. But the idea of clarity will always remain a question no matter how many differnet teachers I continue to have for the last year and semester I have left at this university” (Carmella7, Comment 22, keep talking).

“We have been taught to write what we want, no rules or restrictions. How it is interpreted depends on the audience” (ciaobelllla, Comment 20, keep talking).

“Writing can have many effects depending on the audience and how it was written. Many people in this class have written how they feel and in return it has gotten responses back about feelings of feelings. While pathos can be used effectivrly in a paper it seems this may not always work. The audience might not understand your topic or the views your trying to get across, or the have no feeling on the topic because they don’t understand the pathos in the topic itself. Also, it seems to be taken out of context in many cases” (Shininginthewind, Comment 19, keep talking).

“When you write an article, a poem, any type of prose, you have an intended focus. You want someone to feel something, and you bring out those emotions with words. If you are writing a piece to persuade someone to feel a certain way, you want the reader to feel what you feel. This is a very intimate type of relationship, one that only words can help make possible” (anon136, Comment 17, keep talking).

“This class has helped me to realize that I am responsible for everything that I write, and that the audience is made up of people who have thoughts and feelings that are both very similar to and very different from my own. Through the use of the blogs and commenting the responsibility of the author has become more and more apparent, as has the idea that writing is just as much a reflection of one’s self as speaking is” (treschouette, Comment 7, keep talking).

“i feel more free to expand on my styles and topic for what i want to write about because steph does not restrict us very much. This is a way of being taught that i have not experienced before and i am starting to get used to it” (wright5, Comment 18, keep talking).

Why Knot?


“In a sense,” redbeardthewriter seems to reluctantly concede (!), “this class has succeeded marvelously. We are finally holding a conversation, something that has been demanded of us from day one, about our common aches and pains” (Comment 12, keep talking).

“I hardly ever related any of the assignments that Steph gave us. I didn’t recognize how everything was connecting until we started to write our research papers” (apple23, Comment 15, keep talking). “Isn’t it cool,” writes pylee, “to connect everything together?” (Comment 14, keep talking). Winglsammi explains in detail, “Spending the whold semester with Steph, I find that she tries to make connection between everything… (Comment 13, keep talking).

“From each reflection letters, I know that my writing has been improving a lot, because I know writing the first time is not good enough, we have to go back and forth to see how criticized it to a better way” (white78c, Comment 11, keep talking).

“It is truly that maintaining a conversation via technology can be difficult, specifically when both the junior writing class and our english112 class are equally confused with the process. Fortunately, the topics we have been commenting on are controversial and unsafe (The Wall, Hawaii, Israel vs. Palestine)and summon different arguments” (balderdash1, Comment 8, keep talking).

“Although it may be frustrating at times, this class is a challenge and challenges sure as hell aren’t easy. You just gotta deal” (yepp0628, Comment 9, keep talking).


Figuring out anything these days requires wading through an incredible amount of babble. From choosing the best cell phone to deciding on a political stance, one either goes with convenience (best advertising, choice of friends/family, what’s easy/available in the moment) or deliberation (comparison and contrast). How much effort is given to deliberation is also subject to a range of choices and pressures: what information is available, how easily/soon, whether or not one wants to understand alternate points-of-view, and how carefully one studies the implications of choices.

As some of my students struggle to match what they still see as “what I want” (either the model provided by me-as-authority, or to satisfy me-as-evaluator), I too struggle to guide them deeper into their own natural intelligence. The power of the educational form of (restricted) thinking is deeply imprinted, possibly the most effectively on those who have traditionally had the most success in the educational system. I am confident all of my students will discover a place for themselves beyond the classroom, probably most of them will even be happy (such a vital element of the american mythos). (Yes, mine too.)

Will they be leaders in their generation? Will they be “the ones to change things,” as mrcapatiller believes (private conversation), even as he publicly vents his frustration that there are so many seemingly-intractable barriers along the way?

Most students (the ones I’ve had in classes) write from pathos. They think they are writing logically, but many of them still resist learning that their logic is tainted by limited and restricted exposure. Hence, potential misreading by audiences. As rocketsredflair explained (private conversation), “I didn’t mean to be one-sided or prejudiced, I was just expressing my frustration.” I know. But others do not know what I know about each of you from interpersonal contact over a few months. Readers bring their own interpretive lens, personal experiences, and various knowledges to what you – we, I! – write. These interpretations are the places (spacetimes) where social reality is maintained or changed.

The semester nears completion and students labor to produce final evidence of growth, learning, and achievement. The task is difficult, yet the means within reach.


“To say or to do? I think that’s the question at hand.”

~ Hippo86, Comment 25

the sordid process of nation creation and occupation


In mad raving? I take the first-year students to task on this very point.


most of them reiterated (as noted by junior likeboldcolors, Comment 17) the WHAT or WHY of the assignment rather than experimenting with the HOW. I believe that they understand what comes next in a real conversation (instead of this artificial one in the educational frame of simply answering the teacher’s obvious (?) and boring (?) question), but the actual shift from accustomed form (give the teacher what she wants) to active engagement (independent, individual thought about the content, in this case, the internationally recognized national independence of Hawai’i) has not yet occurred.


Likewise, most of the juniors responded to the assignment with some assumption (apparently) of writing whatever they wanted. Well – yes and no. There were three specific elements, the successful completion of which required a certain labor of reading, thoughtfulness, and construction of a coherent response. Most comments follow a similar theme (without naming that they are doing so, leaving me to wonder about their level of conscious attention). Only one student provided the requested “map” of the conversation among the (approximately) thirty-five participants in the conversation. About half the juniors “added” something, although the relevance of the addition is questionable: mere opinion? Random firing of neurons in a thought that felt smart? What are the relevant criteria? kmb04 appreciates learning although is convinced none of our course activities have anything to do with writing (Comment 27).


These are tricky matters.


elr6 dispenses with the formal task completely and addresses redbeardthewriter (Comment 10) directly:

I like how you have distilled conversations, rhetoric, and ideas. I think you’re right on the money when it comes to “ideas […] do not [end]”. I also appreciate the distinction between old ideas and new ideas. My own thoughts on this subject have turned toward a more fluid process of idea generation and evolution. It’s not always about new ideas overcoming old ideas in revolution. Sometimes (if not always), progressive ideas are just products of old ideas. I suppose we agree that it is the conflict between ideas that allows for a “new idea” to be created. Cause and effect is very relevant here. We would never get anything done if we all agreed. But we really don’t need to worry about that ever happening, eh? (Comment 26)

Now, I have to take elr6 to task because he has “done” (instead of “said”) so well (!) that the conversation is practically private. Who else can enter? Any of us can – I hope some of you will! – but joining has been made difficult by the lack of explanation, absence of context, and void of application of the theoretical to the practical. There is a subject at hand! At least two: nation creation/occupation, and writing effectively.


Relevance: The context is never absent: are you “in” and aware of it, writing “to” (within or against) its boundaries?


Saying as doing: I am not going to pounce on Hippo’s classic error too hard: language is action, speech or writing no less a force than the crass and brutal forms of murder or setting oneself on fire. The distinction is in effect, and the effects are determined more by those who listen (or ignore) than those who say. Want evidence?

I found the intertwining of all these quotes comforting to see. As volatile as Hawaiin Occupation/independence be, the topic can without a doubt lead to some hot discussion as well as debate. Who really occupied who? Who’s at fault? Who the hell cares? It was very intriguing to see how all these opinions/statements can blend into one conversation and make it out alive. It’s a shame so many politcal debates about US occupation don’t end up the same way (Rocketsredflair, Comment 23).

Meanwhile, some comments function as teasers or incomplete tangents. likeboldcolors mentioned “a penetrating effect on our classes” of “research presented in the film [The Larsen Case]” (Comment 17) but did not elaborate… I am left wondering, with my mind grasping to make connections. Is this related to the “it” in anon136’s statement: “It also says something about the power of information and the power of information leading to change” (Comment 18). What is the “something” that is said? What is the distinction between “power of information” and “power of information leading to change”? I very much want to know. 🙂 Can connections be drawn – made! – among these notions (penetration, effect, power, information, change) and the comfort of synthesis? Can connections be made with redbeardthewriter and elr6’s conversation about old and new ideas, cause/effect, fluidity, conflict, progress?


Finally, ciaobella says “we will never escape Babel!!” (Comment 20). Why not? 🙂

For some reason, this post along with shininginthewind’s resonse of, “…she [Steph] shows the conversation between her two classes on the same topic. She brings together two groups of people who have never met and show how people have learned from each other,” remind me of Babel.

Well well well. How so? 🙂

“A good conversation,” says redbeardthewriter, “has new ideas and old ideas working together” (Comment 10, the sordid process of nation creation and occupation).  I had hoped that more of the first-year students would take what they realize is the next step and “add to a conversation and expand not only the audience’s view but also ours” (Comment 3, Unknown 29), yet most of them reiterated (as noted by junior likeboldcolors, Comment 17) the WHAT or WHY of the assignment rather than experimenting with the HOW.  I believe that they understand what comes next in a real conversation (instead of this artificial one in the educational frame of simply answering the teacher’s obvious (?) and boring (?) question), but the actual shift from accustomed form (give the teacher what she wants) to active engagement (independent, individual thought about the content, in this case, the internationally recognized national independence of Hawai’i) has not yet occurred.

“The next step could possibly be bringing up opinions on more politicized issues, to really get the pot stirring,” suggests balderdash1 (Comment 7).  A few students did venture – briefly – into this territory.  Ajch admits, ““I personally don’t know how to reply to this blog. I still don’t fully understand the conflict between the Hawaiian Nationals and the United States” (comment 5).  An option for continuing the conversation would have been to express the points of confusion, explaining what is difficult or as yet unclear. This would accomplish what treschouette suggests:  “To make people understand where we come from we must relate to their ideas and explain our own in terms that they are comfortable with” (Comment 8).  Telling us about the experience of “confusion” only gives us information, while identifying the source or point(s) of confusion invites continued talking.

Winglsammi went further along the path of a next step: “The United States tries to hide up the negative history, in order to let the United States citizens be proud of their coutries, be patriot” (comment 13).  This is new in the development of our conversation to date because winglsammi attributes intention (“tries to hide”), a value (“negative”), and motive “(to let…citizens be proud”).  What is old in our conversation fits the definition given by redbeardthewriter: “…If people only say the same things over and over to the same audience, it becomes commonplace, annoying…” (Comment 10).  Imagine my position (“the same audience”), reading essentially the same answer over, and over – even from previous blogpost assignments to this one!  I am not upset, because I understand the conditioned response to teacher-assigns-homework-to-students, but I am a bit dismayed at the depth of indoctrination.  I even wrote – to prompt you in the direction of taking next steps:

Now what? Does the conversation end with the articulation of varying points-of-view, different capacities for hope, and limits to imagination? Or do we find a way to carry on talking a new kind of talk based on learning the diversity of opinion and complexity of obstacles? Shall we go through the motions, saying all the things that have already been said over-and-over again, or shall we find ways to say things that have not yet been uttered – and keep saying them until they lead to change?

Pylee’s comment combines elements of ajch’s not-knowing-how and winglsammi’s evaluation:  “The history between the Hawaii and America, was a mysterious to us since we do not know which side is right and which side is wrong.However, through the reference and the historical effects, we can see that how it works, how the system works and how the people feel in the issue” (Comment 14).  If you do not experience a sense of mystery when you read about new things, then you may want to inquire about your own sense of curiousity: when, where, and how does it arise?  Conversely, when, how, and why does your mind go numb?  Redbeardthewriter (Comment 10) is on to something important with the distinction between old and new ideas, the element of time (as in longevity), and the attachments that develop. Sorting out areas of agreement and disagreement for change and preservation is the task of dialogue, a task that grows more complicated with entrenchment (longevity) and variety of viewpoints.

Of course, as balderdash1 appears to critique, continuing to take next steps “would generate a ridiculous amount of conversation” (Comment 7).  Hmmmm.  Ridiculous?  What if I say mjollnir89 is right?  I am “indicating that even our words can be used as a source, are important enough to use, valuable enough to form an argument around” (Comment 11).  Why would I believe this and aim to convince you to recognize the value and power of your own words?  Many of you realize that I am teaching skills that are useful beyond researching an academic paper.  Why? PbandJelly21’s idea gets at part of the reason: “Either you will conversate until it leads to change, or you conversate and nothing comes of it but getting your opinion out there, which is a win win situation” (Comment 15).  Another part is the connection itself – as long as we are talking we are in some kind of relationship with each other.  A third part is that talking or not talking about a particular thing establishes value in relation to that thing.  From this perspective, there is no such thing as “a distant issue that has no real impact on our lives” (Comment 11, mjollnir89).  Although mjollnir’s notion that I may “just be summarizing our mad raving” is food for thought.  ☺

Next Page »