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About the Course

In 2014, I collaborated with two colleagues to teach a one-time Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the Canvas Network. Mary Lahman from Manchester University (Indiana), Greg Thompson from BYU in Utah, and I (then at New Mexico State University) designed and presented General Semantics: An Approach to Effective Language Behavior to over 1,300 students from 67 countries. As much as possible, the course has been reproduced here on ThisIsNotThat, within certain technical constraints. Course administrative content has been deleted.

Unless specifically designated, no student content submissions, chat transcripts, quizzes, discussions, or any personal identifying information are reproduced  here on ThisIsNotThat.

As of March 2019, Instructure (the corporation that previously owned and managed the Canvas Learning Management System) announced their intention to indefinitely maintain the original course so that “all learners and instructors will will continue to have access to all past courses on indefinitely.” You can therefore access the archived version of the original Canvas course at General Semantics: An Approach to Effective Language Behavior. If you are one of the 1,300 student who were enrolled in the 2014 course, you can still login and access your own personal content and interactions within the actual Canvas course.

Creative Commons License

Course materials are reproduced here under terms of the Creative Commons Share Alike License. You may use the original content presented as part of this course for any non-commercial use with attribution. External media and published materials may not be included under this license.

Course Instructors

as of January 2014

Mary Lahman, Ph.D.

Mary Lahman

Hoping to engage the inquisitive spirits of my students, I encourage students to give voice to and make sense of their “little” stories—their own experiences—in light of the communication discipline’s big” stories—knowledge and theory presented in the classroom.

Students in advanced public relations class agree that they learn the most from the problem-based learning methods used in this class, allowing me to serve as a “guide on the side” as students research local issues, build client relationship, figure budgets, and meet deadlines. I am a 1983 graduate of Manchester College and hold advanced degrees from Miami University of Ohio and Indiana University. Throughout the course, I will be using material from my textbook, Awareness and Action: A General Semantics Approach to Effective Language Behavior.

Greg Thompson, Ph.D.

Greg Thompson

I received my Ph.D. from the University of Chicago’s Department of Comparative Human Development. I served for two years as the Sanford I. Berman Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Communication at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and remain as a Research Associate with the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition at UCSD.

I’m currently serving as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Brigham Young University, where I study pedagogical interactions.

Steve Stockdale, M.A.

Steve Stockdale

I serve as the Instructional Technology Manager and Canvas administrator for the Grants campus of New Mexico State University in Grants, New Mexico. While completing a Masters degree in Educational Psychology from the University of New Mexico in 2012, I realized that my passions are defined by the intersection of education (how we teach), brain science (how we learn), and technology (how we connect). Underlying that intersection is the role of language in perceiving and expressing life experiences, which includes the study of general semantics (GS).

From 2005-2008 I taught “General Semantics for Mass Communication Practitioners” in the Schieffer School of Journalism at TCU. In 2009, I self-published the eBook, Here’s Something About General Semantics. My previous lives included serving in the U.S. Air Force as a KC-135 Instructor Navigator and as a program manager for Texas Instruments’ Defense Electronics Group (acquired by Raytheon Systems Company in 1997).

Course Description

This course provides an introduction to General Semantics—the study of how we transform our life experiences into language and thought. Students will learn how language habits and behaviors, how they think about and share experiences, are what make them uniquely human. In other words, students will discover the critical, but sometimes subtle, distinctions between what happens in their lives and how they talk about what happens. The course will include readings from a wide array of disciplines, such as communication studies, neuroscience, and cultural anthropology, in addition to visual and auditory demonstrations, music and social media, and collaborative interactions with fellow learners. These types of learning experiences allow students to not only learn about more effective language behaviors, but also practice those new behaviors in order to communicate more effectively and appropriately in interpersonal and organizational contexts.


Course Modules

The course is organized by Module, with one Module for each of the six weeks of the course. There is also a full index of linked pages with major topic headings available.

Module Overview

Learning Objectives

Participants will learn:

  • how language and thought shape, and are shaped by, our experiences;
  • the critical, but sometimes subtle, distinctions between what happens in our lives vs. how we talk about what happens;
  • the importance of distinguishing facts from inferences and opinions;
  • how to spot attempts to use language in manipulative ways;
  • the limitations and potential pitfalls of some language habits;
  • how to analyze unexamined assumptions and premises that contribute to many of our interpersonal and organizational communication difficulties;
  • and how to use simple, straightforward methodologies to more effectively and appropriately think, communicate, and behave as 21st century citizens of the world.

In addition to the six Modules, the following pages are available on ThisIsNotThat:

A linked Index of all course pages, including page headings and sub-headings
Course Expectations — additional pre-course materials for learners
Summary of all course Assignments, Quizzes, and Checklists
Summary of all course references and resources
Our First MOOC, a conference presentation about the MOOC experience

Video Tour of the Course

Thanks for joining us.

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