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Course Description

Using a variety of research methods, communication scholars, sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists have reached a similar conclusion about humankind: we are social creatures. We need to establish meaningful relationships with others. We need to associate with others in groups. We are reared in family groups. We are educated in groups. We worship in groups. We are entertained in groups. We work in groups. When an important problem arises, we seek others' advice and meet with problem-solving and decision-making groups in order to help find answers to important issues.

The main purpose of this course is to help you become a better communicator in the context of a small group. The objective is to give you both a broad understanding of group communication processes and practical advice to help you become a more effective small group participant. The course will primarily deal with task-oriented small groups groups with a specific objective to achieve, information to share, a problem to solve, or a decision to make.

The course is divided into two parts. Part One will examine the theoretical concepts from the readings using a combination of lectures and in-class activities. Part Two consists of a major project in which students' are allocated to small groups in order to solve a problem set by the instructor. The purpose of the project is to provide a "real" and common communication experience which will provide the basis for critical reflection and analysis using the concepts discussed in the first half of the course. The activities for the course are as follows:

Part One

  • Midterm Examination: A take-home essay-exam which will evaluate the student's understanding of key concepts by requiring them to discuss and apply these concepts to a case study in small group communication.
  • Lost on the Moon: Comparing group versus individual performance on a problem solving task.
  • The Sales Manager's Journey: Analysis of a small group problem solving exercise.
  • My Group, My Culture: An analysis of the group culture experienced in this classroom setting.

Part Two

  • Communication Logs: Journals describing the students' communication experiences while participating in the Group Project.
  • Group Presentation: An oral presentation of 10-15 minutes; the culmination of the Group Project.
  • Analysis of the Group Experience: Using the information collected in the Communication Logs, students' conduct an analysis of the experience of working in a problem solving group using key concepts described in the first half of the course.
  • Final Examination: A multiple choice examination evaluating students knowledge of pertinent concepts and vocabulary used in small group communication research.

Class Readings

Fraser, C. (1978). Small groups: Structure and leadership. In H. Tajfel & C. Fraser (Eds.), Introducing social psychology. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Haney, C., Banks, C., and Zimbardo, P. (1981). A study of prisoners and guards in a simulated prison. In E. Aronson (Ed.), Readings about the social animal (3rd edition). San Francisco, CA: W. H. Freeman.

Maier, N. R. F. (1967). Assets and liabilities in group problem solving: The need for an integrative function. Psychological Review, 74(4), 239-249.

Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to authority: an experimental view. New York, NY: Harper Torchbooks.

Radford, G. P., Morganstern, B. F., McMickle, C. W., and Lehr, J. K. (1994). The impact of four conferencing formats on the efficiency and quality of small group decision making in a laboratory experiment setting. Telematics and Informatics, 11(2), 97-109.

Samovar, L., Henman, L., and King, S. (1996). Small group process. In R. S. Cathcart, L. A. Samovar, and L. D. Henman (Eds.). Small group communication: Theory and practice (7th edition). Dubuque, Iowa: WCB Brown and Benchmark.


  • Midterm Examination - 10pts
  • The Sales Manager's Journey - 10pts
  • Lost on the Moon - 10pts
  • My Group, My Culture - 10pts
  • Group Project: Communication Log #1 - 5pts
  • Group Project: Communication Log #2 - 5pts
  • Group Oral Presentation - 10pts
  • Analysis of the Group Communication Experience - 20pts
  • Final Examination - 20pts
  • Total Points Possible - 100pts

Allocation of Grades

  • A (Excellent): 90pts plus
  • A minus (Excellent): 88-89pts
  • B plus (Good): 86-87pts
  • B (Good): 80-85pts
  • B minus (Good): 78-79pts
  • C plus (Satisfactory): 76-77pts
  • C (Satisfactory): 70-75pts
  • C minus (Satisfactory): 68-69pts
  • D (Minimally Passing): 60-67pts
  • F (Failing): 59pts and less

Rules for Written Work

All written work should be TYPED and DOUBLE SPACED.

All written work should have a separate title page with the title of the paper, your name, the name of this class, the name of your professor, and the date the assignment is due by. There are no exceptions to these requirements. Handwritten reports, outlines, things ripped out of notebooks, and work without title pages, however neat they might be, are NOT acceptable and points will be deducted accordingly. Always keep a photocopy of all assignments that you turn in. If an assignment is lost, regardless of fault, it will be your responsibility to provide a second copy.

All written work should be turned in on the date of the deadline contained on the syllabus, not before. Any assignment turned in after the deadline will be assigned a D grade, regardless of its quality (except if it merits a failing grade).

Written work will NOT be accepted via email under any circumstances.

Evaluation of Group Work

Midway through the semester, each member of the class will be randomly assigned to a small-group with the task of completing a group project. This group will remain intact for the remainder of the semester. The outcome and successful completion of the group project will be the responsibility of the entire group. Group work will be evaluated on the following basis: (a) all group members will receive the same grade for the group presentation and all materials used as part of that presentation, (b) each group member will receive individual grades for the communication logs and the group experiences paper in which students reflect on and analyze the communication experience of working in a group.

Attendance and Class Participation

The very nature of this course, with its emphasis on "skills development," requires students' participation and attendance. More than three absences limit students' possibilities for practical experience with talked about concepts and skill development. Missed class exercises are impossible to make up. Each person has a responsibility as a participant and as a group member to contribute to the learning experience and without your presence this responsibility cannot be met.

Student Responsibilities and Extra Credit

Classes will begin on time and students are expected to be punctual. Reading assignments, including textbook and supplemental readings, are considered required. The ability to apply these materials to written assignments comprise a significant component of the grades awarded. Due to the nature of the class, in-class activities, presentations, and discussions missed cannot be made up. Extra credit does not exist. If you must be absent from this class, it is your responsibility to notify the professor in advance (if possible).


Any evidence of plagiarism, the appropriation or imitation of the language, thoughts, or methods of another and representation of them as one's own original work, will automatically result in an F grade for the assignment and possibly an F grade for the course. All sources referred to should be properly cited. You are encouraged to read the Fairleigh Dickinson University policy on academic integrity.

Student Agreement

Attendance at this class signifies that the student has agreed to abide by and adhere to the policies and regulations specified above. It is understood that the instructor may adapt or change this syllabus and the assignments contained within it according to circumstances that may arise during the course of the class.


1Welcome to the class!
2Understanding Small Groups
Read: Samovar, Henman, and King, Small Group Process
3Affective Structures in Small Groups
Read: Fraser, Small Groups, Structure and Leadership
4Communication Structures in Small Groups
Read: Fraser, Small Groups, Structure and Leadership
5Individual vs Small Group Performance
Read: Maier, Assets and Liabilities in Group Problem Solving
6Lost on the Moon: Comparing Individual and Group Performance
7Group Performance and Technology
Read: Radford, Morganstern, McMickle, and Lehr, The Impact of Four Conferencing Formats on the Efficiency and Quality of Small Group Decision Making in a Laboratory Experiment Setting
8Social Influence
Read: Haney, Banks, and Zimbardo, A Study of Prisoners and Guards in a Simulated Prison
Video: The Power of the Situation
9Power in Small Groups: Making Sense of Zimbardo
Read: Fraser, Small Groups, Structure and Leadership
10Power in Small Groups: Cool Hand Luke I
11Power in Small Groups: Cool Hand Luke II
12Obedience to Authority
Read: Milgram, The Perils of Obedience
Lost on the Moon Paper Due
13The Sales Manager's Journey
14Leadership Functions in The Sales Manager's Journey
Read: Fraser, Small Groups, Structure and Leadership
My Group, My Culture Paper Due
15Midterm Examination Due
The Sales Manager's Journey Due
Timeline for Group Project
16Allocation of Groups for the Group Project
Setting of Group Task and Distribution of Supporting Materials
Communication Log#1 Set
71Interviewing for Information
Guest: Dr. Albert E. Wheeler
18Pre-Planning for Small Group Decision Making
Midterm Examination Due
19Working in Groups: Awareness and Getting Started
20Working in Groups: Description of Problem/Setting of Group Goals
21Working in Groups: Analysis of the Situation
Communication Log #1 Due
Communication Log #2 Set
22Working in Groups: Making Proposals
23Working in Groups: Evaluation of Proposals
24Analysis of the Group Experience Paper Set
Review for Final Examination
Communication Log #2 Due
25Final Examination
26Group Presentations I
27Group Presentations II
28Group Presentations III
29Final Exam Period
Analysis of the Group Experience Paper Due

This site last updated December 26, 2010.