Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week; 3 hours / session


Course Description

Collaborative Learning System

Social Psychology in Theory and Practice


Social Psychology in Action

Modern and Systematic Paradigms: Two Mostly Complementary, not Always Contradictory, Perspectives

Human Inquiry (Science)

Meaning and Power (Mens et Manus?)

"Everything that is said is said by Someone"



Final Grades

Keeping a Journal

Course Description

This course examines interpersonal and group dynamics, considers how the thoughts, feelings, and actions of individuals are influenced by (and influence) the beliefs, values, and practices of large and small groups. Learning occurs through a combination of in-class activities complemented by participation in small study groups and completion of regular homework assignments. The class also involves occasional lectures and demonstrations.

Collaborative Learning System for 9.70

This subject offering has been evolving for several decades. In the 1970s Playboy magazine listed it among the 10 best undergraduate classes at U.S. colleges and universities. In part, this was said to be "because you get to determine your own grade" (well, not exactly, but…).

Social Psychology in Theory and Practice:"Science Walks on Two Legs"

Here we are. On the verge of (another) "new" Spring Semester at the biggest and best and most tip-top and famous and only institute of its kind in beautiful downtown Cambridge, our fair city, MA 02139. Our respective and conjoint prospective participation in the 9.70 learning system places us in a consensually-shared social situation. I am being intentionally somewhat abstract and technical here. All of the foregoing words are part of a technical vocabulary that enables us to communicate with each other in a way that is conducive to consensual validation. You will need to master these terms and concepts. Do you understand their meaning in this context? If not, please Ask For Help. This process proceeds sequentially, and it will be seen that a "firm foundation" of "understanding" and common spatiotemporal, cultural, and linguistic frames of reference. We Want You To Feel Free To Stop The Process In Order To Ask For Clarification, Or To Question The Pace And Direction We Are Going At Any Point. We thus take the immediate and concrete, fact of our own concurrent co-participation in the formation of a particular human social system (This Class) as our point of departure and as a prime thematic focus to which we will recurrently return.

The"collaborative learning system" into which we will presently begin organizing ourselves, makes it structurally and functionally different in social organization from most undergraduate classes. What we are trying to do here is to engender a shift in attitudes; to help you to learn how to more sustainably and humanely Both participate in And observe, with ethical sensitivity and scientific rigor, the organization and development of a human social system of which you, yourself, are a common member. In this case, learning will take place within the multifariously limiting boundaries of a single semester long 12 unit subject of undergraduate instruction at MIT. These and other structural limitations notwithstanding, we aim to facilitate learning among us in this context by fostering collaboration in the formation, implementation, guidance and formative and summative evaluation of our efforts to comprehend the subject before us. If we are at all successful, we will succeed in shaping ourselves into a reasonable (if situationally limited) facsimile of a "real" scientific community, In other words, our efforts here are organized to advance our understanding of the world, and its contents, including ourselves and each other. Even more pointedly we hope and expect this class to become a context in which we all both profess and practice the art / science of real and serious scholarship.

Given a class size of 20, commonly devoted to and in the service of meaningful human inquiry; given a 14 week-long term duration, and a given by each participant a nominal commitment of 12 hours / week in the amount of time / effort to be put into the process by each and all of the individual participants, the 9.70 nominal workload works out to (20x12x14) or 3360 person-hours of (hopefully high quality) time and effort over the next 2 and ½ months.

In past years, the quality of the learning experience and the performance of the class "community" as a whole and in all its parts have achieved moments of real excellence. Like all members of all such communities, in whatever"fields", our inquiries proceed within the conceptual and material boundaries of particular scientific "paradigms".


Paradigms, as will be explained, are humanly conceived systems with conceptual (e.g. epistemological and axiological) and material (e.g. methodological) aspects. It is part of the argument of this class that frameworks having cognitive, affective and expressive aspects are hallmarks of human systems at personal and social levels of organization. In science, paradigms set various tangible and intangible limits to the scope and penetrativeness of our theories, hypotheses, methods of procedure, and interpretations.

But we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves …
The system organization process will continue immediately after a short break....Upon reconvening, we who return consider ourselves committed (however provisionally) to being serious students. Next, we randomly divide the membership of the class into subsystems (study groups) intended to operate interdependently with others while each remaining together as a stable subsystem for the duration of the term, unless or until the participants determine otherwise. This random assignment helps to create a "level playing field". The coursework will thus be approached in a way that provides everyone with equal first hand opportunities to experience and exchange ideas about what it means to scientifically investigate (experimentally / experientially) the subject before us on individual, small group, and large group levels.

Social Psychology in Action

Collaborative learning is not a spectator sport, and 9.70 is not a lecture class. Presence and active involvement by all in all aspects of the class is key. All enrolled students, like everyone else participating in this iteration of 9.70, are expected to come to every class well-prepared to participate fully in facilitating the organization and development of the class as a whole (and its parts) into an effective set of mutually and reciprocally collaborative learning systems.

A word needs to be said about this unusually long and detailed Syllabus. Taking the place of formal lectures, it consists of many narrative passages aimed at drawing your attention to issues that are centrally important in "making sense" of human social conduct. In lieu of lectures, the syllabus is thus intended to serve as a major Text and Guide at the outset and over the entire term. Your reading in it should be sequential. Proceed through it page-by-page, week-by-week. Please read it carefully and refer back to it frequently as we move along.

"Trust the process"—Our pedagogical model and collaborative learning approach have been co-evolving with constructively critical inputs and corrective feedbacks from many successive cohorts of 9.70 students over many years. Happily, this has enabled your predecessors not only to gain a good familiarity with the subject area, but also to attain levels of knowledge and skills that have turned out to be personally and socially useful to them. The experience will hopefully help you in contemporaneous and future contexts where you find yourself actively participating individually and collectively with others in the organization and development of what is intended to be a trustworthy community of inquiry into matters of serious human concern.

Prepare yourself, then, for semester-long involvement (at a level of 12 hours per week for 14 weeks) in a "hands-on" learning process. We encourage you to approach it—insofar as you can—as a kind of expedition on which you have embarked with others. Given the necessary modicum of individual and collective investment on your part, this can be an opportunity to participate with peers in a scientifically credible, ethically appropriate and academically sound exploration of the subject before us.

The subject area in question is represented in an enormous academic and professional (as well as popular) literature. Important scholarship has been done by adherents of the mainstream (so-called "modern") experimental scientific approach to the study of social psychology. For access to a reasonable sample of this material, we are fortunate to be able to rely on a concise and eminently readable textbook that expertly and engagingly surveys the subject, offering clear and cogent explications of findings obtained in diverse experimental, clinical, field, and laboratory contexts. As we proceed through successive research topics, we concurrently observe, interpret, and evaluate our own progress toward the goals we have set for ourselves. This involves reliance on a credible "formative evaluation" process that becomes another main focus of our collaborative learning / teaching methodology.

Albeit partial and provisional, the model of inquiry that our approach enables us to construct for ourselves both emulates and differs from situations encountered in more conventional classroom, laboratory, clinical and field research contexts. While acknowledging differences in knowledge, age, and experience, between instructional and student subsystems, our goal is to challenge the conventional "top-down" arrangement, according to which essentially everything of material and conceptual value presumably comes from "the front of the room" and, more specifically, from the uniquely powerful and centrally placed and particularly privileged position of the instructor-in-charge. We aim to replace this approach with an alternative that is scientifically credible, pedagogically sound, and educationally effective. The aim here is to recognize realities while minimizing some of the unhelpful aspects of the more hierarchical model. Insofar as we can, we aim to encourage here the emergence of a collaborative learning system in which meaning, rather than merely power, deriving from position, directs the general flow of things, and in which all members share the kind of citizenship that encourages in each the power and responsibility for saying and doing what they feel and think they should be saying and doing while also respecting the rights of all others and agreeing to adhere to a few basic ground-rules pertaining to premises, principles, and procedures of inquiry.

By an hypothesis that we will further explore next week, comparatively many features of human social systems (dyads, families, groups of various kinds) can be identified as generic. This means that, given a particular social context, certain events are likely to be regularly observed to occur time and time again and to recur in other contexts in many superficially different forms. In other words, patterns and cycles that we are able to perceive and are accustomed to observing in one situation are likely to have organizational and developmental counterparts in other situations.

Still differently put, everything that happens in the weeks ahead will be uniquely the "one time only" result of the particular manner in which moments and issues and events arise for us in their own singular and unique ways. Nevertheless, we can safely promise that at least some of the knowledge and skills on offer here will be acquired by you and the most lasting and useful will be those gained by you experientially, via your participation in the 9.70 learning experience. Will that prove useful and relevant, mutatis mutandis, to your ability to understand and respond appropriately to things happening in myriad other human social contexts as well?

This syllabus is so big because it is partly intended to provide information that might previously or otherwise have been presented via lectures (of which we try to have no more than a few). Together with our textbook and other materials to which you will have access, the syllabus and other initial handouts are meant to engage, motivate, and guide your progress through the course of inquiry now getting under way.

Please note that our search for an understanding of the subject before us will bring you into direct experiential contact with social psychological situations in many ways and on many levels. Through this exposure you will hopefully learn to find your way around in the maze of social psychological theories (beliefs, values) and practices associated with two different scientific "paradigms." (What is a"paradigm"? See the section on Paradigms above, see also "Human Systems Schematic" and"Developmental Schemes" Handouts)

Modern and Systemic Paradigms: Two Mostly Complementary, not Always Contradictory, Perspectives

Let's keep talking quite abstractly: The epistemological, axiological and methodological entailments of the first–the modern scientific paradigm–are pertinently exemplified in and espoused by the textbook. The second—the so-called "systemic" or "contextual" or "post-modern"—paradigm–together with its key scientific beliefs, values, and practices, will be introduced and advocated (professed?) by the instructors. In our view the second paradigm retains many virtues of the first—generally validating and incorporating into itself many of the first paradigm's theories and practices. We contend that for many scholarly intents and purposes, the second, systems-oriented, paradigm offers a richer, deeper, broader, and more inclusive human / ecological framework as its basis of understanding. In our judgment, it affords social psychologists (like us) a generally reasonable and realistic approach to human inquiry: an approach that is contextual, organic, participatory, and action-research oriented.

During the first four weeks of the term we will be both introducing the "territory to be covered" and examining–comparing and contrasting—some of the key conceptual and material particulars of these two paradigms. It is important to understand that in introducing and distinguishing between the two paradigms, and in endeavoring to describe their respective features, we do not at all mean to suggest or imply that they are completely contradictory or mutually exclusive. Excepting one key difference between them (the fundamentalist claim of the former to its own uniquely singular and universal superiority), we will argue that there is really no need to choose between them and that sole reliance on neither paradigm is wholly sufficient to the task of providing us with anything approaching a singularly and universally true and complete understanding of the subject before us.

In our view, faithful reliance upon some key conceptual epistemological, axiological and material (e.g. practical / methodological) features of each proves to be necessary and sufficient for the participant / observer to make credible, trustworthy, and practical sense of scientific experience in the realm of social psychology. Accordingly, we will be exploring and demonstrating the value of both paradigms in various situations. In this way, we hope to come as close as we presently can to attaining an epistemologically valid, axiologically (including ethically) sound, and methodologically effective way of attaining a scientifically credible, ethically appropriate and practically useful understanding of our subject. Do you find these to be difficult concepts to understand or too abstract to be worth serious consideration? Please reflect on what you think and how you feel about this material so far; discuss with peers and others until they make some sense to you. If this doesn't do the job, please bring that fact to our attention, either privately or (better yet, in class).

Human Inquiry (Science)

A goal directed, task oriented activity having many aspects and involving, among other things, the organization and development of a more or less random group of able and interested persons into a self-organizing and self-validating "consensual domain." Thus we come to see science–in significant part–as a consensually valid, pedagogically sound, practically effective Collaborative Learning System. The mix of inherited and acquired particulars that come to characterize the structure and functions of the 2013 iteration of the 9.70 collaborative learning system–the beliefs, values and practices that inform its organization and development–aspire to be scientific and are the product of many years of experience and involvement by many successive cohorts of students. And while experience has taught us to "trust the process," we do not regard anything about it as absolutely or immutably fixed.

Meaning and Power (Mens et Manus?)

What are they? How can their "social influences" and the interplay between them be understood? We suggest them to be constant features of significant relations within, between and among human systems. What is really going on here? Education? Indoctrination? What are the rules? Who is "in charge"? Who decides? On what grounds? Who is to say? Says who? These and related questions will arise and need to be confronted, negotiated and (re)defined among us as we participate together in both forming our collaborative learning system and taking due note of variables pertaining to the process of its formation.

Learning = Changing mental sets and behavior at individual level; changing beliefs, values, and practices, worldviews, valuesystems, and lifeways at individual and collective levels.

Over the course of the semester, as we proceed–hopefully in the posture of serious students acquiring learnable skills–We will travel through the sequence of topics referred to above and detailed below. As already noted, the fact of our respective and conjoint participation in and observation of the organization and development of the class itself becomes one of our main foci. Expect conceptually and materially compound and complex interactions of various kinds to be constantly and recurrently taking place at three levels of organization: the individual, the instructional subsystem, the study group, and the class as a whole. (Not to mention influences arising from the organized environments within and around us)

As we participate in the formation of the 9.70_13 collaborative learning system, we closely observe the process and come to see certain aspects of it as "unique" and some "generic". That is to say, we come to see that the processes of organization and development that we are undergoing in this class are specific instances of general trends and have their counterparts in other human social contexts.

"Everything that is said is said by Someone."

Our friend and onetime MIT colleague Professor Humberto "Chicho" Maturana was notorious for confounding his peers back in the 1970s by starting every formal scientific talk by announcing this fact. Why did he do that? Given the context, what does the statement suggest or imply? Do you take it to be true? Important? What relevance (if any) do you see in it for us and our present business?

We first of all take Maturana's assertion as a timely reminder that everybody entering into the present situation (or "setting") brings with him/her their/our own habitual mental sets, attitudes, default assumptions, and situational definitions. It is axiomatic, in other words, that the already-established attitudes (thoughts and feelings) and expectations / inclinations that we bring with us into any given situation have consequences for how we will actually behave and what we will experience therein. To say it again, in a slightly different way: the particulars of our personal and social lives (our backgrounds and experiences) influence our perceptions of and reactions to any new situation. And how we behave in the situation in question will tend to influence how we experience ourselves and others and how we come to be regarded by the latter.

The "social influence process"—this is a key concept from"The Social Animal" (see below)—of which what is presently going on here and now (at this moment of reading or classroom discussion) may be taken as a representative case in point; The process of coming to understand is a project for many lifetimes; our subject is complex, cyclical, and cumulative, with the play of multiple relevant factors everywhere constantly and recurrently ongoing. Is there something about this material that you find difficult to absorb or that makes you uncomfortable?

Do you understand that this interplay both enables and limits our available reactions? conditions and constrains the clarity and comprehensiveness of our interpretations? reflects and reinforces (or challenges and undermines) our fondly held beliefs and values? motivates our effort? influences our hypotheses? biases our inquiries? qualifies our conclusions?

Needless to say, there are many barriers that will need to be confronted and overcome in order to succeed, but this class continues to be offered because it "works". Our longtime experience teaches us that undergraduate MIT cohorts like this one can—within the available modicum of time and effort,—organize themselves (ourselves) into scientifically credible, pedagogically sound and practically effective collaborative learning systems; systems in which and among which attitudes of social responsibility are encouraged and acts of personal and collective initiative are rewarded and in which collaboration evolves without engendering cynicism, freeloading, deception, or cheating.

In a "consensual domain of inquiry" like the one we will be endeavoring to establish among ourselves, it is critical that "meaning" and "power" issues be clearly identified as such and that "the power to make meaning"–initially the prerogative of the instructional subsystem—comes to be more or less equitably shared among the membership. For example, while recognizing and acknowledging real differences (e.g. between "students" and "teachers") it should become routine for everyone participating in such a community to explicitly accept it as a "default assumption" that all reported observations and interpretations offered by different members (or even by the same member(s) at different times) are equipotentially valid (until or unless deemed otherwise) and thus equally deserving of serious scientific consideration. By the same token–conclusions and hypotheses should remain provisional; established ones will continue to prevail unless or until effectively called into question and shown to be false or untenable. Precisely because 9.70 is a collaborative learning process, we are all individually and collectively responsible for devising and implementing a mode of self-organization that includes an equitable division of labor in which all members are free to play various roles as appropriate.

In this class, each individual and (sub)group has the power and the responsibility to observe and participate honestly and actively in ways that help the system to work openly, fairly and effectively. Do not expect us to tell you what to do. We do not have all the answers. But if we point you in a particular way, do not comply with our instructions without understanding and agreeing with them. Each of us must take control of and responsibility for our own attitudes and actions.


The first several class sessions will be led / facilitated by the instructional subsystem. We will endeavor to model at least some of the functions of the facilitating group of the week. The fourth session will involve a presentation (a simulated family interview) in which the instructors and study group 1 will collaborate. Beginning with Group 1, the power and responsibility for continuing to perform this leadership task will rotate weekly through Groups 2, 3, 4 etc. In this way, each study group will have two or more opportunities to facilitate.

We (the instructors) see ourselves as both "members" and "leaders"; accordingly, after trying to get the learning system off to a good start, we will pretty much try to step aside and get out of your way, while continuing to participate in class sessions and otherwise remain part of the process—available for consultation or guidance where necessary. We remind all who facilitate to presume that everyone in the class is on the same level and in the same boat as they are.

Many years of experience teach us that the "demand characteristics" of the student leadership role in 9.70 will remain somewhat constant, while also varying, more or less predictably, in accordance with topical shifts in the syllabus. The need to deal with a number of developmental issues normally arises in the course of our general trajectory through the term. Unpredictable changes in the task or misunderstandings of various kinds should also be expected to occur, as substantive and procedural issues arise at individual, study group, and whole class levels of organization and development. Insofar as possible, the facilitating "study group of the week" represents the members of the class and the other study groups and is expected to consult with the instructors as needed to define and to deal with issues arising in the collaborative learning process.

During the week leading up to class session at which you and your group-mates are scheduled to serve as facilitators, everyone in your group should be prepared to put somewhat more than the usual weekly modicum of time and effort into the class. For example, in addition to preparing a provisional agenda for the following day's class, the facilitating group of the week will also be responsible for making and distributing summary overviews and evaluations of each of the following:

  1. Significant events at the previous class session (at which they were supposed to be playing the role of observers, bystanders, and recorders). This document should be prepared and distributed as soon as possible after the previous class session.
  2. The form and content and usefulness of the submitted minutes.
  3. Plans for covering the current week's main topics and assignments.

As soon as they are completed, copies of the foregoing documents, together with the proposed agenda, should be forwarded to all members of the class (thus giving everyone some time to read and digest the material before the upcoming class).


Formative and Summative Evaluations

There are no problem sets to be turned in, no quizzes, no final exam in 9.70. And yet a grade will need to appear next to your name on the registrar's official grade report at the end of the term.

How is that grade to be arrived at? The question recalls Footnote 2 above. This has been a central problematique of this class for a very long time and remains so today. The process that has evolved and is presently in place may best be likened to the kind of formative evaluation that is familiar to anyone who has ever participated with others in a cumulative design process. Both formative (recurrent, interim, ongoing) and summative (terminal, final) evaluations of individual and group performance must be implemented in collaborative learning situations. In this class you will have an opportunity to acquire a number of valuable learnable social psychological skills, including ways of evaluating individual and group performance in collaborative contexts.

What there is to be learned here about social influences involved in evaluation will be learned mainly in a hands-on and frankly experiential way. This is not the place to enter into a detailed or in-depth discussion of this issue. Suffice it for present purposes merely to say that whereas conventional grading practices call for the instructors to evaluate the performance of students on an individual basis, the nature of our subject, and the size and kind and organization of the class make such a grading system wholly inappropriate here. Of course, the instructors will actively participate in the grading process, and will be required to endorse the letter grade that appears next to your name on the official grade report sheet to be submitted to the registrar at the end of the term. Please do not expect that grade to reflect merely or even mainly the instructors' assessments of the quality of your own individual and collective work in 9.70. The organization and development the 9.70 Collaborative Learning System will proceed through a number of stages or phases (see Developmental Stages handout), and your formative and summative evaluations will be relied upon to both guide our progress and to assess our effectiveness in negotiating our way through the relevant developmental phases. Copies of formative and summative evaluation schemes developed in previous classes are available on request (ask for e.g. "9.70_13 Draft Evaluation Form.")


These are not a lot of fun to fill out, but our memories are notoriously fallible and experience teaches us to most trust feedback that is prompt, timely, and frequently recurrent. Fair warning: you will need all the help you can get in fulfilling your dual tasks of Formatively and Summatively evaluating your 9.70 learning experience. We expect you to use your timesheet regularly, "on line and in real time", to keep track of your work—including attendance at meetings and completion of assignments.

The Bottom Line: It is up to you to keep track of the amount of time and the quality of effort you devote to your performance in this class. This information is to be generated by you and recorded several times per week on your timesheet (and more extensively in your journal, as appropriate) and may be exchanged and acknowledged within the study group by all members. Experience teaches us that one of the most important and lasting lessons students stand to learn in this class is how to both give and take constructive feedback. The performance evaluation process begins with some credible means of keeping track of the quantity and quality of your participation in real time (or soon thereafter).

Final Grades

Your final letter grade will be the result of the formative and summative evaluation process–and will come at its Very end. Meanwhile, instead of thinking in terms of letter grades, try to think in terms of the "demand characteristics" of the situation as outlined above and what you take to be the desiderata for you to have a truly high Quality learning experience in 9.70 this term. Here the key is: successful "on task" performance by all constituents of the system. In order for excellence of performance to be achieved at whole class level, it must be achieved at study group level; in order to be achieved at that level, it must also be achieved at individual level. Etc. Etc. and vice-versa.

In other words, if the 9.70 learning system works really well in all the aspects and levels that we can directly observe, that will suggest that everyone is and all levels are doing good work: including timely, conscientious and constructive engagement with organizational process and task issues. The educational value of the student-centered, hands-on pedagogical approach taken here has been demonstrated in years past. It requires each and every participant to accept the power and responsibility of working meaningfully and effectively together with others. We expect the outcome to be highly "value-added" and highly correlated with individual final grades.

In 9.70, striving for success is an ongoing process. It involves:

  • Serious attention to, conscientious, and timely completion of all reading and viewing assignments;
  • Full, faithful, and punctual attendance as well as active / constructive participation in discussions—at the group level and at class level.
  • Continuous collaborative formative evaluation (as explained above);
  • Regular and timely submission of study group minutes (as explained on page 6);
  • Facilitation preparation and process;
  • Effective participation in design, conduct, completion and presentation of term project(s);
  • Development and implementation of a sustainable summative evaluation process and result.

Keeping a Journal

Precisely because it will have a discernible trajectory, and pass through some theoretically and practically noteworthy milestones, the process of development of your 9.70 learning experience is worth keeping track of. Accordingly, everyone is expected to keep a journal. It is best to approach this task from the stance of a serious researcher–e.g. a member of an expedition keeping a field notebook. Honesty, accuracy and diligence count! Be faithful and conscientious in making regular and relevant entries; exercise compassion as well as curiosity. Use your journal to record (and thereby to explore) your own thoughts and feelings about any and all aspects of 9.70 as well as any other topics of social psychological interest. Share entries as appropriate with group-mates, classmates, and instructors.

Since we (the staff) are interested in learning what you think and how you feel about 9.70, it would be easy enough for us to simply require you to make your journal entries available to us for periodic or on-demand inspection. But that would be pedagogically self-defeating as well as an unwarranted invasion of your personal privacy. Instead, what we will do is trust you to do your part and ask you to be no less conscientious in your journal-keeping than you are in fulfilling other class requirements. Keep your journal with you at all times. Feel free to share parts of its contents with others–group-mates, classmates or us—as appropriate. Be prepared to show (without disclosure of the contents in detail) that it is being well-used for the purposes already outlined.

In Sum: Your journal is precisely that: your journal. Only in the event of disagreements relating to final grades (e.g. between self-assessments and peer-evaluations) may we find ourselves forced to ask to examine the contents of your journal. Punctual and full attendance at all regularly scheduled class meetings, study group meetings and other events is the sine qua non. But"being there" is only the beginning. It takes nothing less than constant conscientious and constructive involvement by everyone at all levels to make the system work

Bottom Line: The educational value of the learning experience and the quality of your final grade will be determined by the quality and amount of time and effort that the membership of this class puts into all the aspects of the task of creating a collaborative learning system that really works. Experience teaches us that diligent journal keeping is a key element in the process. Please act accordingly.