Stages of Group Development (COM352)

They want me to reduce the confusion. I think we are in the transition from “forming” to “storming.”

It’s an intense class with lots of discussions by us
being observed and in ways being judged by our peers
.”

The feedback provided to me roughly falls into five categories: confusion, grading, peer evaluations, structure, and general. All of the feedback is constructive and everyone explains some aspect of class that they really like (which in some instances are also the things that draw criticism), even if it is only their peers. ­čÖé

I like that I don’t get punished if I am confused about something.”

Within the next two weeks (before spring break), I want to cover the work of D.O. Hebb (1966) who studied the relationship between emotional stimulation (what he labeled “arousal”) with learning (“cue function”) (in Luft, 1984). Hebb’s “experiments … show that as tension increases (along the horizontal axis), so does motivation to learn (on the vertical axis), up to a certain point” (emphasis added, p. 28, Group Processes: An Introduction to Group Dynamics, 3rd Edition). The tricky balancing act is to keep the tension high enough for learning and low enough for sustainability.

One of the most intriguing bits of feedback speaks, it seems to me, to one of the ways I try to maintain this balance:

Sometimes the switch between letting us flop around like
fish out of water and then at other times having rigid structure and expectations is
difficult to deal with
.”

I am pretty sure that I move from one activity to another when it seems (to me) that we have gotten the most productive use out of the activity, and/or I feel compelled to move on to another activity that I imagine will benefit the group. This is not a matter of me possessing some “hidden meaning” (as one student suggested), as much as it is of me trying to anticipate the smoothest move from where we seem to be to where (I imagine) we could go . . .

The feedback on “switching” informs me of two things:

  1. the “logic” of switching may not be transparent to students, and
  2. some “switches” feel more intense than others.

I don’t recall a particular awareness of the potential impact of “switches” in-and-of themselves . . . At least, not more specific than noticing, sometimes, a group-level awkwardness, as if everyone is recalibrating. This is a fascinating tension! As it played out in the group last class (#5; according to recollection), I established a fishbowl activity in which a substantive decision-making process was begun by a subset of students. My expectation was that this would be just a beginning, a taste, of short duration: “ten minutes, unless you’re hot, then up to fifteen.” The students were hot (!), and I let them go nearly twenty minutes, at which point we had a check-in, and I agreed to let them expand the process to include the “spectators” observing their deliberations from “outside” the fishbowl. (This meant letting go of some planned activities; no biggie, in this case.)
A classic dilemma developed: the members of the fishbowl had come to a decision by polling. It appeared (in retrospect, according to how things unfolded) that this subset of members of the class then expected a vote from the rest of their peers to be unproblematic. Not so. New topics and debates emerged, cutting off a formal decision-making process with a stream of informal handclasps and self-authorized agendas. The decision-by-minority “inside the fishbowl” “Does Anyone Object” method “failed” in the larger group. I use the quotation marks, however, because this is a relative failure, pending where one emphasizes or prioritizes the elements of group dynamics. Rushing to define content (a material product) was resisted – not necessarily because agreement is impossible, but because the process had not yet accounted for diversity of visions. From a process point-of-view, this development opens up the possibility for creative distillation of the guiding premise or gist of the eventual course wikisite.
Eventually, I stopped the process. The topics that emerged are important and need to be addressed (did anyone take notes?), but the momentum had been lost and the “flopping” had served its illustrative point. I guess this is the particular “switch” referred to in the feedback above; I was aware in the moment of a collective “pause” as that particular activity ended and we turned our attention to something else (defining feedback). As I reflect upon that transition, now, I imagine the authority dimension (Weber). I (the teacher) gave students space and time to begin to exercise their own authority (to design the wikisite) – and they took it! When I agreed to let the fishbowl group attempt to extend their decision-making process beyond themselves to the rest of the class, I did not reiterate (should I have?) that this was a time-limited situation with conditions attached, i.e., “you can keep going as long as you’re hot and when/if you lose it, I’m taking over.”
So, when I did “take over” – by restoring the structure of the classroom with an actual lecture – it may have felt extreme by way of contrast (from one extreme of teacher non-interference to the other extreme of teacher domination) and by virtue of the preparedness of students to do this on their own. One self-evaluation comment argues that two students “could probably run the class….it would suck, but we could pull it off.”

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