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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Online Cultures and Offline Behaviors - Part 2 - Establishing Culture

Part 2 - Establishing Culture

Establishing Cultures and Randy Pausch's Last Lecture
How culture is established is a multifaceted and deeply involved process.  Some factors in establishing culture include the speed at which cultural norms are set, whether there is a clear leader or dissenter, and how outside visitors view the culture.  There have not been empirical studies on establishing microcultures to my knowledge, but in many social psychology studies, microcultures are indeed established for the duration of the experiment.  One well-known study that investigated the creation of micro-culture is the Stanford Prison Study by Phillip Zimbardo.  While this study uncovered many unknown aspects and phenomena about the human psyche, it was also an extreme example of culture creation.  Twenty-four male students were recruited to participate in a study in which half the participants were to be guards and the other half were to be prisoners in a makeshift prison.  Using a variety of methods including the factors previously listed, the indoctrination into this simulated culture was so harsh and so disturbingly easy that the study was ended after only six days.  If you haven't been exposed to the Stanford Prison Experiment, please do check out the website and think of the implications the study has in many real world situations.  It is incredibly easy for anyone to fall into the role of a prisoner or guard in their personal relationships, work places, or government.

For this next section, I do not have references or empirical studies to cite.  Many of the following situations are anecdotal, and I'm open to other interpretations.  Here are some examples of how I've set rules in a microculture, and a link to how to nurture an online community.

Example A. As a biological specimen collector for the Texas Attorney General's Office (think CSI), I've had to work with many children, most of whom are pitching a fit and crying.  When the children get to me, I tell them directly in an assertive yet calm tone, "There's no crying allowed here."  I do this with lots of children between the ages of six months old to five years old, and the method has a 95% success rate.  Many parents stare in awe and ask, "How did you do that?"  Simple.  I established the rules for my laboratory, and the children followed.

Example B. One of my hobbies is dog training, handling, showing, and judging.  Along the way, I'm often approached for advice by dog owners who do not set specific rules and boundaries for their furry loved ones.  Dogs have very different social structures than humans.  Giving dogs free reign and no rules usually leads to dogs who misbehave in a variety of ways including: jumping on people, gnawing on people, ignoring people, running away, refusing to obey commands, growling at people, challenging or fighting with other dogs, getting food whenever the dog wants, or food aggression.  When people ask me for help with these issues, I immediately point them to the Nothing in Life is Free program and the Umbilical Training Method.  These programs and other variations are quick and easy methods to teach dogs rules and reinforce desirable or undesirable behaviors.  Simply, the dog must offer desirable behaviors prior to receiving food or attention.  It is the owners who should demand and get the attention, and not the other way around.  Many dog owners assume that dogs should behave in the fashion that we desire, but they are dogs and do things that dogs enjoy.

Example C. Every semester that I teach a new class, I establish a microculture in my classroom.  I learned the hard way that if rules are not explicitly set at the very beginning of class, the entire semester could be a disaster.  My first solo teaching experience: I was given two weeks notice that I was teaching an Introductory Psychology course to 250 students.  Needless to say, I was not prepared nor did I expect college freshmen to behave so immaturely.  Since I am of small stature, female, and appeared young, it contributed to the problem.  It is commonly known that these are the three factors that are most correlated to classroom management issues.  Students would stroll in late, they would talk on their cell phones during class, and they would protest assignments and exams.  I did recognize the problem early on, consulted with my teaching mentors, Dr. Ludy Benjamin and Dr. Stephen Balfour, and got my class whipped into shape by mid-semester.  Other graduate students who came to my class described my students as polite, quiet, well-behaved, and almost like a military troop.  A colleague also taught the same course, but she did not instill any rules.  The misbehaviors in her class grew over the semester.  Asking the department head to sit in on her class only exacerbated the problem.  One student yelled obscenities at her during lecture, and neither the department head nor the lecturer addressed the issue.  In the mind of the students, if the department head thought it was okay to be obnoxious and rude, then it certainly was acceptable classroom behavior.  In conclusion, I now spend the entire class period the first day of class in every single class establishing the cultural norms of my microculture, and then we spend a day watching The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.  If you haven't watched the lecture (available on googlevideos or youtube), stop reading this article and watch it now. Randy Pausch's Last Lecture is one of the most motivating and useful lectures that is a must watch for both educators and students alike.  Randy Pausch's lecture is a guide to how to live your life, how to nurture your relationships, and how to achieve your dreams.  The purpose of watching the video is to establish expectations and classroom culture.  Randy Pausch is not only a great lecturer, he's also models classroom behavior the way I would like.

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