Social Psychology of the
Generational Community Classroom

by Leon James
University of Hawaii
Original: 1979; Updated: 1985; 1994; 2000; 2012 


Studying Social Psychology

Social Psychology is a scientific field related to sociology, anthropology, and general psychology. Its field of study includes:

(I) How social settings affect people's behavior

(II) How social organization of community life creates a socio-cultural environment which directly and decisively affects people's health, thoughts, emotions, and feelings

Its method includes:

(I) systematic gathering of social data through observations

(II) analysis of data through graphs and matrices

(III) theorizing about the patterns of observations

Studying Social Psychology can provide you with some valuable, new skills. Among these:

(I) a gain in your ability to describe people's behaviors over and above `common sense' descriptions; this gain shows itself in your ability to give objective analyses of what's going on around you, in your community, day to day living;

(II) A gain in your ability to represent your own behavior and mental life in an objective manner;

(III) a gain in your ability to theorize, as shown by reasoning from data to hypothesis testing to more data.


Teaching Approach in Community Classroom

The method used in this course reflects the particular educational philosophy of Dr. Leon James sand Dr. Diane Nahl. Together, they have developed a new approach, aided by the students at the University of Hawaii, who help improve the method by their active co-operation. We chose the name "Generational Community Classroom" for this new approach and expect it will be adopted in other courses at the University of Hawaii and elsewhere.


Topic Areas in Social Psychology

Unlike such subjects as Math, Chemistry, Biology, or Accountancy, which have a well-defined topical area and are presented to the students by "levels" (introductory, follow up, advanced, professional), Social Psychology does not have a well-defined topical area, nor is it arranged by "levels." Instead, the content of courses is much dependent on the choices of the instructor and the school of thought with which the instructor is identified. There is however an overlap which can be specified: e.g.

--social perception and illusions
--interpersonal relations
--social attitudes and ideology
--personality and demography
--group dynamics and management
--inter-group relations
--cross-cultural communication
--psycholinguistics (language and culture)
--attribution process and other cognitive processes


Principles and Techniques
in the Community Classroom Approach

The accompanying TABLE lists the three main principles and specifies six techniques which are to be put into effect (for the first time all together) during the Fall 1979 semester.




1. Orientation for course
2. Ingathering for classes
3. Individualized (choices)
5. Non-Punitive Grading (points)
6. Professionalized Student (literacy skills)

1. DRA Indexing -- (SW; CM; DR)
2. Con-Con
3. Cumulative; Long-Term Projects (aviary; etc.)
4. Field Contacts
5. Alumni Activities
6. Folklore (Readings; Hey Cards

1. All Are Essential
2. Consensus Management
(Social Cells)
3. Feed-Back Forms (Shared) (CFF; DR)
4. Team Quizzes and Exercises
5. Newsletter & Posters
6. Diversity and Size Are Mined As a Cultural Resource


Social Psychology Topics in Community Classroom

The topics of Social Psychology lend themselves especially well to their study through the Community Classroom approach. This is because the large-size and diverse composition of the class form a social microcosm which can be directly used as a source of data on interpersonal relations, group dynamics, social attitudes, and the like, which constitute the overlapping core of Social Psychology. By arranging for small group meetings, team exercises, and other group projects, and by treating the class-as-a-whole, as a "generation", the topics of Social Psychology are made to come alive and appear real and concrete, directly involving the students' own experiences and observations.

One technique instructs students on how to generate data through the "experimental method." The second technique instructs students on how to generate data through the "natural history method" (or, "field methodology"). It is this second technique that is used in Community Classroom. Students participate in prescribed exercises with one another. These participatory activities constitute the field or dynamic social setting, from which the student learns to extract data. Studying the patterns of these self-obtained data provides the practical experience for the study of Social Psychology.


Community Classroom Management

In 1979 the Community Classroom had a lecture component and a standing projects component. The latter provides students with real-life dynamic social settings in which they participate in small work-teams. This actual "field exposure and experience" gives students direct practice in generating data and in recording. The accompanying TABLE shows the standing projects for the Fall 1979 Generation.

DRA Indexing


III. Communications


A. Generational Annotations

B. Community Atlas

C. Hey Cards

A. Class Feedback Forms

B. Progress Reports

C. Discharge Reports

D. Short and Long-Term Consequence


A. Newsletter; Posters

B. Orientation and Registration

C. Alumni and Con-Con (generational constitutional conference)

D. DRA Folklore

A. Ancillary Readings

B. Computerized Grading

C. Practice Quizzes

D. Campus Aviary

E. Scholarship Prizes and Certifications


Community Classroom Lectures

Every lecture is constructed with the following components:

(I) PREPARATION: Study "CHART-for-the-lecture" in Lecture Notes provided by the instructor;

(II) INGATHERING: Spend five minutes in class doing "relating exercises" to reduce anonymity and provide peer mingling;

(III) ORAL PRESENTATION: explanations of the CHART while (I) students listen without note taking;

(IV) ORAL PRESENTATION: II: explanations given a second time while students take notes;

(V) PRACTICE QUIZ: a "formative" exercise to give students an immediate feedback on their comprehension;

(VI) QUESTIONS AND AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION: open discussion, student views, further explanations. A syllabus is provided along with Lecture Notes containing preparatory STUDY-CHARTS and other study aids. Lecture topics are integrated with exercises and standing projects (q.v.) so as to provide students with both a "cognitive" and an "experimental" learning component.


Grading and Evaluation

A point-system of economics is used. Course procedures are arranged so that students receive points for a pre-defined set of activities throughout the semester. Points are obtained for: attendance; practice quizzes; regular quizzes; team quizzes; team projects; individual projects; and some others. Thus every student can balance their interests as against their talents and receive points in a variety of manners. Total number of points accumulated determine your final grade according to cut-off points announced in advance. Thus you know your grade, and there are no surprises or "curve grading". Points are given in full according to an announced TABLE whenever the student's work being evaluated meets the standards, as specified in advance in written instructions.


What Are "ingathering" Exercise in a Community Classroom?

Ingathering activities are usual and necessary in our regular social gatherings. When we go see someone for a particular purpose, we spend the first few minutes doing "ingathering" talk (asking about family, health, mood, etc.). This contrasts sharply with more formal situations involving strangers in public places. The Community Classroom attempts to create a favorable learning environment through the use of the ordinary social mechanisms, as they are familiar to us from our daily life in community. As a result, activities are used to make possible peer exchanges that do not happen spontaneous by in large-audience settings. Ingathering activities help create an organic-generational Community Classroom.

Because the Community Classroom gives the student some new challenges which are unfamiliar as well as of a particular character, it is important that the student know in advance, and exercise a choice on it.


Generational Approach in Community Classroom

Several mechanism are used to achieve a generational classroom environment. These are the most important:

(I) Generational Indexing: students work in teams or individually, then make written reports. These are annotated by other students, both same generation (or semester), and across the generations. Successive generational annotations bring students of different semesters in contact with each other through this literary medium. For a look first hand, please visit the Generational Curriculum Online Virtual Super-Document.

(II). Standing Projects: students do their class work within the frame of long-term projects which span semesters. Thus, each generation picks up and continues the work of the previous generations;

(III) Alumni Activities: the student's relationship to the Community Classroom continues (voluntarily) past the semester through activities that benefit the former student as well as the Community Classroom. See the Online Daily Round Archives Index which is the work of the student alumni.

Self-Monitoring in Community Classroom

Self-monitoring is done for two reasons:

(I) To insure that the Community Classroom works as a whole or totality ("organic function");

(II) To provide students with direct practice in generating and analyzing social data in a real setting ("microcosm function"). A by-product of self-monitoring is their partial use for program evaluation. This is required within the context of educational experimentation an innovation. Self-monitoring by students include the following:

(I) Class Feedback Form for every class;

(II) Audiotape of every lecture (deposited in library right after each class);

(III) Progress Reports;

(IV) Discharge Report;

(V) Student-earned points bookkeeping;

(VI) Project Reports and all other Written Documents deposited in the Daily Round Archives (DRA).


Learning Conditions in a Large Community Classroom

Community Classroom creates a learning environment which is dependent on large size and diversity of composition. Regular classrooms are based on teaching approaches that are dependent on small size and homogeneous composition. Size and diversity have their own special advantages which are then maximized through appropriate pedagogic techniques (exercises; topics; projects). These techniques are designed to create forces ("dynamic conditions") which counteracts anonymity and competitiveness, while at the same time, enhance community-based resources that create excellence in learning (e.g.: cooperation; objectivity; peer modeling; mutual facilitation).

There are general as well as specialized skills that the student can expect to acquire by taking this course and doing all the required activities. Course objectives include the following:

(I) knowing how to generate data from one's own observations of social settings and people's behavior in them;

(II) knowing how to analyze these data in a scientific manner and to theorize about their significance;

(III) knowing topics and terminology related to contemporary ideas in Social Psychology, Cyberpsychology, Popular Culture, Driving Psychology, Relationship, Social Networking.

 (IV) practicing interactive communication and writing skills, including,

·      oral and written role-playing (face to face and online group meeting platforms)

·      scheduling and executing collaborative online team projects and reports

·      practicing group activities and exploration in immersive environments

·      participating in public social networking activities and deriving observational data from social interactions

·      participating in a weekly student discussion forum on course topics

·      doing joint research online using Web-based information resources, libraries, and databases

In a Community Classroom the student is given opportunities to improve these competencies through generational peer modeling, and through exchanges involving the display of these skills to one another in class (face to face or online). Since the focus of the student is arranged to be on the class itself as a social community, students learn general principles of group management and community dynamics.

The focus of this instructional approach is on participatory observation of community organization. Students become proficient in perceiving directly some of the social forces that affect people's behaviors in social settings and online. They learn to "notate" or "record" the effects of these forces and to inspect these records with a view to theorize concerning their source, development, management, etc. This kind of systematic examination of the relation between behavior and social settings is expected to facilitate the student's comprehension of the literature, and of scientific ideas in psychology and related disciplines.


Group Dynamics and Management

"Group Dynamics" is a field theory concept (K. Lewin) referring to social psychological "forces" acting upon a person in any social setting. It is used particularly to refer to forces which stem from an individual's relationship to others with whom some group is formed. There are "natural groups" such as the family, waiting lines, co-habitants, audiences, and so on, and there are "task groups" such as work teams, clubs, committees, professional associations, and so on.

Group Dynamics is the specialized study of how to affect people's behavior -- individual and collective, -- through managing the group's environment: e.g., size; composition; structure of interactions; rules of interaction; selection of participants; nature of tasks to be performed; communications network; reward system; and many others. See this chapter on Kurt Lewin for a discussion on field theory and personality as they apply to community-classroom.

Students will examine and experience the group dynamic forces that are active on them in the online environment to which they are tied more and more through mobile devices and ubiquitous computing. They will learn about “online identity management” and related issues involving privacy, safety, and security.


Personality and Demography

Communities are composed of diverse cultural and sub-cultural groupings,  according to a system of classification determined by the people involved. Groupings within a community retain distinctive characteristics that serve to bind together those that share these distinctive traits, and simultaneously to highlight the distinction from those who do not relate themselves to these traits, features, or characteristics. "Demography" is the study of these distinctions among the sub-groupings of the population of a community.

In Social Psychology, "personality" refers to the demographic traits of a person, especially the way in which these "personal characteristics" are acquired from one's associations with others and are maintained through transactional exchanges with others.


Psycholinguistics or Language and Culture

Psycholinguistics is a field within the interdisciplinary frame of psychology and linguistics. For a technical treatment, see this online work representing our application of psycholinguistics to instruction (James and Nahl). Psycholinguistics is related to communications, cognitive anthropology, speech pathology, language learning and teaching, ethnosemantics, ethnomethodology, sociolinguistics, and philology, among others.

Human relations are governed by shared conventions. These conventions are not observable to anyone who is ignorant of the language of communication and thinking that is used by the interactants. Psycholinguistics studies the stream of discourse produced in talking, thinking, and writing.

Some important issues are:

(I) relating the stream of discourse to the social psychological forces in the social setting; this is called "the functional analysis of the verbal community"

(II) managing the stream of discourse through the use of "prompts," such as questions, clues, forms, rating scales, adjacency-pairs, formulaic expressions, close procedure, etc.; this is called "applied psycholinguistics in social psychology" (James and Nahl)


Social Attitudes and Ideology

"Attitudes" in Social Psychology refer to verbal declarations that people make when they are asked to give an "evaluation", or a "value judgment", or "an opinion on a controversial issue", or "an expression of agreement or disagreement." In Social Psychology, "theories of attitude formation and change" has been a much-researched area.

In the social sciences and in the humanities, "ideology" refers to the dynamic power of ideas, i.e. the power of ideas whereby we can say that "ideas move men." Thus, ideology is a system of ideas that motivates people to action of a particular kind. Since social attitudes are value-laden declarations concerning others, they are the "skeleton" upon which ideology is based. For example, the disapproval we may feel upon seeing someone cheat on an exam, is a social attitude upon which the American ideology of "fair competition" is based.


Conversational Management

"Conversation" refers to a type of "transactional exchange" between people in a community. It involves verbalizing, signing (with gestures and expressions), and information processing or meaning. Conversational analysis has been a heavily researched area in psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, anthropological linguistics, political science, and communications.

"Conversational analysis" is usually based on social data we ordinarily call "transcripts." A transcript is a partial and incomplete record of a conversation. The latter is always a particular, unique, event that took place in time and was carried out by real individuals having unique identities. Hence, the record of the event as represented by the transcript must be supplemented with annotations explaining the verbalizations appearing on the transcript, and a video showing facial expressions and sitting positions. By studying annotated transcripts you can gain a greater comprehension of the process of conversation, and thus come to manage your conversations better.

"Transcript analysis" reveals that "conversational management" techniques employed by the two sexes are contrastive. For instance, under many ordinary situations, in talk between couples, the man performs a greater number of interruptions and performs a greater number of minimal or defective answers (e.g. "Mmm." or no answer at all) towards the woman, than is the case the other way round. Other examples include more tentative assertions by women (e.g. "I think...", "I would say that...") and different signaling habits (body and facial gestures). These male-female differences in conduct serve as "regulating mechanisms" between the two groups' relations.


Natural History Methodology in Social Psychology

All scientific disciplines have a "methodology," which refers to the main procedures used to generate data in that field, or sub-field. In Social Psychology there are two main methodologies: one is called the "Experimental Method", and the other, the "Natural History Method", which includes “Field Methodology.

The natural history method includes the following essential steps:

(I) Delimit the area to be observed, e.g., place, time, people, type of activity going on

(II) Construct a format or method of recording the event to be observed, e.g., forms to be filled in; prompts given to the individual (oral, written, or sensory); transcripts of normal dialogue; reactions to formulaic paragraphs (ideology); audio and video recordings; public and personal records; structured interviews; extended case history (ethnography)

(III) Use the recording format at the delimited area

(IV) Annotate data records for explanations

(V) Represent patterns in the data through a suitable notation system (e.g. graph; matrix; chart; math; logic).


Experimental Methodology in Social Psychology

This is the second of the two main methodologies practiced in Social Psychology today -- the other (reviewed above), is the Natural History Method, which is also known as "Field Methodology."

The experimental method in social psychology consists of the following essential steps:

(I) Become familiar with a sub-field and know what its research topics are in the relevant literature

(II) Formulate a cause-effect hypothesis concerning some controversial or not well-known phenomenon that is discussed in the research literature or in oral exchanges with colleagues or students

(III) Design an experiment following prescribed procedures in manuals of research and in oral exchanges between specialists (this involves using a control condition, and random assignment of subjects to the various conditions)

(IV) Get subjects using appropriate methods of sampling and put them through the prescribed procedures while you record their responses

(V) Analyze data statistically


The Social Setting as a Field of Forces

Everyone recognizes that the environment influences behavior. Various theories and schools of thought exist concerning the mechanism or "functional relations" that tie behavior to the social setting in which it occurs.

In the school of thought associated with field theory in social psychology (as discussed above), a social setting is defined as an environment or "field" ("space/time" location) in which numerous forces act upon people who are located in that setting. A common example of forces acting upon you in social settings can be mentioned: you're sitting in your seat in class and now all eyes are upon you as the professor addresses you by name: you feel the change in forces as soon as you're on the spot, and then, off the spot. Or, contrast the two settings in terms of your emotions: you’re driving in traffic and being late vs. you’re at home relaxing.

What makes the difference in how you feel in the two settings? The dynamic forces of the traffic setting put limits to our performance and what we want to do. We feel impatient, frustrated, stressed, angry, infuriated. These are the negative emotions occasioned by the negative forces that are acting on the mind and body of the drivers. But when you are at home relaxing, the dynamic forces of that setting are milder and more positive, even pleasurable.


Standardized Imaginings:
"Language in Thought" or “Inner Speech”

Thinking is as natural for people as eating, walking around, and talking. Thinking is influenced by the social setting just as eating, talking and walking around are thusly influenced.

Walking pattern or style is clearly influenced by family and community customs. So is eating pattern, (i.e. what you eat, what combinations, when, how much and how fast, etc.). So is talking influenced by community customs (when, what, how, to whom -- you talk, and what you say or don’t say). And so is thinking: what you think about something and how you are thinking about it in different circumstances (or social settings), is similar in some ways (and unique in others) to how others in the community think about it in those circumstances. Those shared, common background thoughts in a community are called "standardized imaginings."

What we think and how we react are therefore cultural scripts or mental procedures that each of us performs in common with others in social settings. This unanimity of thoughts and reactions is even stronger in the afterlife where communities are formed on the basis of affective and cognitive similarity of unique individuals (see details in our Theistic Psychology book series).


Attribution Process in Standardized Imaginings

Standardized imaginings as discussed above, refer to commonly held thoughts and ideas about the world and shared community life.

Human transactions always involve two channels: what is visible or made explicit and what is not directly visible, i.e. "implicit or "implied." Our shared thoughts and ideas on the daily round world around us, forms the basis of the "background knowledge" we need to share in order to interact with each other.

Background knowledge includes items of information and a reasoning logic. Thus, when we observe happenings in social situations, we attribute a cause-effect chain to them so that we see one thing causing another and leading to still another, etc. in a network of “causal attributions”. This network of ideas about what's what in social settings, forms the basis of our standardized imaginings.

For a discussion on standardized imaginings in the driving setting, see this chapter on the social psychology of driving behavior

Subject Index to the Daily Round Digital Library

Introduction to the Generational Curriculum
Social Psychology Textbook for Generational Community Classroom
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