I always enjoy the upbeat sound of the Beach Boys’ Surfin’ USA, but who knew how much fun it really is!

First, the wet suit really does keep one warm. This was crucial for me, as I am a coldwater superwimp. Second, when a wave actually takes you – WOW! That is a supercool sensation! My rides were fairly short, just a matter of seconds. The experience, though, is not dependent on the length of the ride. My teacher pushed me into a few waves, then I caught some – the tag end of them as they approached the shore, only inches tall. Still – when you get it just right – the zoom is incredible!

Balance is challenging. 🙂 I did, indeed, tip over many times, while riding a wave as well as simply sitting or laying on the board. There’s an art to positioning oneself just far enough forward but not too far back, and also with keeping your weight evenly divided between left and right. The slightest unsuspected shift was enough to send me toppling, and even the ones I knew were coming still often sent me flopping. And this is just to stay on the board while floating! Once you’re riding, a whole ‘nother set of dynamics kicks in. Most of my rides were angled sideways, as I tried not to flip over. 🙂

Steering was impossible. I mean – one obviously learns how with practice, but my focus was absorbed with the balance problem. Timing is also a key element. There’s only one sweet spot , and if you miss it, well, you spend a lot of time trying to get into the right position at the right moment or, getting the chance and then taking a tumble. I did both, plenty. 🙂

Only once did I try to stand up. My wet suit stuck to the board and I produced a wonderfully uncoordinated cartwheel or three. No injuries though, despite that blasted leash strapped around my ankle (tangling up my legs). Belly surfing was good enough for me – for the first lesson. I definitely want to surf again! The experience is beyond words, literally. You are in the water, the horizon is defined by the height of the waves. Just a one foot surf is enough to block the view! And plenty tall enough for a fun ride. The last one I rode in might have been nearly two feet tall it gave me my longest ride. The transition is so quick, from laboring to stay afloat to hurtling along as if weightless: an incredible juxtaposition of bouyancy and effort. (The whole wave action involves potential energy – physics! – which I also find quite exciting.)

I resisted teaching Interpersonal Communication in an online-only environment for a long time. How can we call thistyping to each other, and reading instead of listening to a voice & watching a face – a mode of direct interaction?

In the Fall of 2002, I took a graduate level Communication course called The Social Impact of Information Technology. It was my first year of coursework toward a doctorate degree in social science, specifically in the discipline of Communication. A few years later, I recall some of the things I learned in that class for an Electronic Frontier Foundation competition – which I did not win (smile).

After I earned my Master’s Degree (in Social Justice Education), I taught for several years at a community college – both traditional (face-to-face) classes and online courses (when the program was very, very new). When I began teaching online, I tried to use the same strategies that worked for me in regular classes – investing a ton of energy, encouraging and eliciting emotional engagement so that the subject matter had personal relevance to each and every student. I realized quickly that I cannot transpose my in-class manner to the cyber situation: if students do not log in and actively participate, no matter what I do has no influence: not only do more students simply fail online classes, many of those who pass hardly learn a thing. Pay close attention! Certain students will fall off the map (generally those who underestimate the time commitment and/or fail to generate the self-discipline or motivation to invest as much as necessary – and others will excel. The difference is in who shows up!

How does one measure presence when the only medium you have to use are printed words? A very successful and smart blogger that I met some years ago in Amsterdam wrote about living relationships ~ Lilia says, “there is something about the nature of interaction that makes the difference.” As I imagine how to revise the curriculum for this second attempt at teaching Interpersonal Communication Online, I find her insight instructive:

the feeling of being connected is much stronger in the cases where the interaction is about something, but not that much for the sake of interaction.

In other words, I wonder what will be “the something” that binds us – students and teacher – together over these six weeks of study. Lilia suggests that the strongest connections come from doing together. I agree. The question is what is “the doing” that we will do? We have an obvious task – to learn about interpersonal communication. But this may not be the highest motivation for everyone: some of you may be taking this class only because it is required or meets a requirement; some of you may intend to invest as little as possible to pass; some of you may want to earn an A without having to work very much for it; some of you may actually care about the subject for reasons which may or may not be shared by others in the class. One thing we must agree on is how we will communicate with each other. I found an excellent guide for online writing – please do not worry that these are academic guidelines from a high school student – we need to recognize and accept (in order to use!) the literacy of young people with a wide variety of text-based communication (e.g., texting on cell phones and instant messaging on computers).

Instructions for Students (any/everyone else is free to participate as you wish):

  1. Before posting a reply, open your own WordPress weblog. If you have not already done this, please be sure to register an anonymous name so that you are not identifiable to your peers, family, or friends.
  2. Write your reply in a word processing program first, and save it. (More instructions about the Reply are posted in the Course Website.) Copy your entire response in preparation for pasting.
  3. Login to your own WordPress weblog. (By logging in to your own Weblog first, I will be able to ascertain who earns credit for doing this assignment.)
  4. Return to this post.
  5. Click on “Leave A Reply”
  6. Paste your reply into the reply/comment box.
  7. Click on “Submit Comment”
  8. If other classmates (or anyone else) has already replied, please feel free to respond to their comments too – but give credit by naming who said what!)

And now – the fun begins! 🙂

PS – if your comment does not appear within a few minutes, it means my weblog does not recognize you yet as a real commenter (instead of as computer-generated spam).  Be patient – I will moderate regularly and add you to the list.

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.

I want to introduce a new concept used in sophisticated group relations analysis. Valence is a term borrowed from chemistry, it serves as a metaphor for what we can witness happening relationally among members of a group. “The electrons in the outermost shell are the valence electrons--the electrons on an atom that can be gained or lost in a chemical reaction.”

Bear with me (I’ll draw on the board during class): valence electrons are the ones that establish bonds between atoms – so, just imagine “yourself as an atom.” Like an atom, you have certain (chemical) properties which draw you into relationship with certain other kinds of atoms while repeling you from forming bonds with certain other kinds of atoms. The thing about these attractive and repulsive forces is that they are – to an extent – outside of your control; they are tendencies or proclivities that draw you into particular configurations. We’ve been using the term “role” to label the tendencies and proclivities each of you has demonstrated within our class/group-as-a-whole.

As you have been reflecting on the feedback from your peers, and comparing what they witness of you with what you experience of yourself (remember the Johari Window) – one kind of conclusion you might draw is if you have a valence for reacting to particular circumstances in a group’s dynamic in a characteristic or habitual way. For instance, take the label I gave myself and nearly half of you confirmed in my Johari Window: complex. I am always drawn to the knotty place in a group’s process, to the moment of conflict when differences and disagreement are most salient.

Perfect example? When Mike objected to the Group Assessment Worksheet, arguing that (I paraphrase), “it would have been better if we had done this all along, week-by-week, rather than now, looking back.” I asked what was happening, Aly identified storming….do you remember how we returned to that topic? I brought it up again! Eric would probably argue that if I was a better leader I would know NOT to revisit the sore point, instead I would guide you around it somehow, so that we wouldn’t lose the time and energy of working things out. Instead, I – possibly like a moth to a flame, a dog to a bone? – sensed the percolation of discontent and chose to engage it. Got a bit tweaked in the process, too (!) but, in the end, we made some more progress: some of you decided to embrace the option of completing the final three assignments (well) in order to guarantee yourselves an “A” in the course. The rest of you remain subject to a decision-making process among yourselves: although I would also suggest that you clarified these stakes some more as well. Several proposals are now on the floor, including:

  • everyone gets the same grade
  • everyone present gets an A
  • 50% peer evaluations and 50% teacher evaluations
  • certain assignments are credited and others are forgiven

Notice how you orient yourself to this debate, be aware of the role you fill, of the bonds you are being pulled toward (those that feel ‘natural’ or ‘commonsense’) and also notice those ideas or emotions that you reject out of hand. Anything ‘automatic’ at this stage is worth interrogating. Are you being a functional or dysfunctional member of the class/group-as-a-whole right now? What functional roles are you contributing? Are these the ones we need, right now? What is the task that needs to be completed?

The test assigned last week, to which students are now posting commentary and expansions, was predominantly a self-assessment, however embedded among the True/False questions based on “Functional Roles of Group Members” by Kenneth D. Benne and Paul Sheats were a few that have scientific authority rather than simply being a matter of opinion. These are numbers 1, 6, 8, 9, 13, 16, and 17 (all the T/F are posted in Online Portion B).

Not surprisingly (given our US cultural context and its particular hierarchy of values), but somewhat discouraging from a teacher’s point-of-view :-(, the item which most students marked incorrectly was #6: “Members are more important to groups than leaders.” Eleven of twenty indicated that this statement is false. Does this mean they did not read Benne and Sheats’ carefully? Have they not been paying adequate attention to their own behaviors and experiences with each other in class? Or is the value system so deeply embedded that the answer is reactionary: from the gut without consideration?

“The functions to be performed both in building and maintaining group-centered activity and in effective production by the group are primarily member roles.” p. 53

In other words, the students who answered this question incorrectly are still caught up in the fallacy that ‘membership’ equals ‘followership’ (in which following is given a negative value). The next most commonly missed question was #17: “My personality and the role(s) I play in groups are the same thing.” This is false. Six of twenty students indicate that they have not yet learned to separate their personality from their roles.

“…trainees are inclined to make little or no distinction between the roles they perform in a group and their personalities. Criticism of the role a group member plays is perceived as criticism of ‘himself.'” p. 59

The matter of separating self/identity/personality from role is particularly crucial because it is one of the most common sites of resistance in a group. Resistance itself can either serve the group productively – for instance, in the storming stage – or can impede the group, being entirely self-serving. Someone who is caught up in self-serving behavior can become a functional member of the group by addressing and altering their behavior. Sometimes there are dynamics in the group that elicit self-serving behaviors; if these root dynamics can be addressed (e.g, see the various dimensions in the stages of group development) then these particular members can play absolutely vital functional roles for the group-as-a-whole.

Next, there was some confusion concerning #9: “If I am in a group, I am either a functional member or an un- or dys-functional member.” Only three of twenty students still (apparently) believe that there is an opt-out option of non-presence or no influence, but this is patently false. If you are there, you matter, whether you want to or not. You can matter for good or ill, but presuming that your presence (or absence, when you are expected to be present) makes no difference at all is selfish thinking. Likewise, two students indicated that that they do not have to take on multiple roles if they are a member in a group (#8). I suppose it is possible for an individual to only have one role in a group, but I don’t think anyone in this group (nor most human beings) are so limited as to only be able to fulfill or offer one role alone. In fact, the concept of role flexibility should inspire a dedicated group member to develop as much range in role as he or she can, and to practice switching roles as situations and developments demand.

A few items that I am interested in for assessment that have no necessarily ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers are numbers 14, 19, 21, and 22. The word “sensitive” was used ambiguously, with a negative connotation in #19 (too much sensitivity to criticism about your functional role performance leans toward the self-serving agenda) and a positive connotation in #21 (being “sensitive to the operation of member roles in our class/group and …sub-group teams” – which is desirable). The ambiguity may have confused some students’ responses. Seven students admit that they are still “unsure how to diagnose role requirements needed by my sub-group team” (#14), and (possibly the most honest answer), one student confessed that only sometimes is she/he “aware of and conscious about my own proficiency in different functional roles” (#22). I would suggest that these two skills not only belong together, but they are the subject of lifelong learning.

In the replies that follow, students are to reflect on how their test results illuminate or otherwise enable them to add more insight to the blogposts they’ve written about the mass of peer feedback received in Class #13, the second to the last official class of the semester.

The first meeting of the Informed Consent/Study Team was a brainstorming session about what to select as the focus for a formal study of the group dynamics that have occurred among class members (students, teacher, and visitors) over the course of this semester. Steph has already been collecting data (via the peer evaluation rating forms) to test an hypothesis about the stages of group development, but that information is insufficient by itself.

We agreed that it is time (now) to pose a study question. If we could wind back the clock, what would be interesting to have paid close attention to from the beginning?

Ideas (in no order, roughly in the sequence in which they came up):

  • Having no instructions compared with lots of instructions and how this ties to leadership, for instance, the progress of the group on a given day. (Example: “today given a task and a standard, which increased the rate of success on this day in comparison with other days.”)
  • The whole underlying thing of the group dynamic – come to work with Steph – who’s writing on the board…
  • Use of Johari Window, Peer Evaluations
  • The variation of feedback over time…
  • A group of strangers working together…how we view each other over time – perhaps shown in the quality of what people write (as feedback) over time…what they write…how they view their peers.
  • Strangers: only a few knew each other prior to this class, now friends and know many
  • How do you get together 30 kids….the wiki is an arbitrary task..
  • The success rate of fishbowls: “I really like them!” said one team member. They have
  • Flexible content (how this goes down)
  • Want to accomplish
  • A lot of control
  • positive
  • Just arguing with each other – no one wanted to
  • Avoid hurting people’s feelings “weak” = negative
  • Getting into it…..what do…..problem of agreeing – then uphill since
  • Most people hate group work
  • We do the group work in class
  • Homework done at home, no dependence
  • There are choices, people feel bad about not pulling their own weight
  • Are the peer evals biased? Towards the beginning – who chosen to rate? Now friends with them….

Benne and Sheats argue that member roles receive very little attention in groups because most of the limelight goes to so-called leaders. Please

  1. characterize the function/purpose of the true/false section of the Functional Group Roles exam and
  2. summarize what you’ve learned from the experiential methodology of our class/group to date.

Be sure to include a link to your detailed “If statement” expansions on the True/False questions that you’ve written in your own Weblog!