This is my mini research on Constructivism for Communication Theory class.
Constructivism is a term with varying interpretations in different fields: education, philosophy, mathematics, art, architecture, political science and linguistics. In communication, constructivism is a cognitive theory of human communication that describes how human perception influences the skillful production and interpretation of a variety of social influence messages (Delia, O’Keefe, & O’Keefe, 1982). The constructivist theory is based on symbolic interactionism and George Kelly’s personal construct theory. Jesse Delia, Daniel and Barbara J. O’Keefe of Northwestern University conceptualized it from these two interrelated theories to understand how human beings construct meaning.
The time upon which this theory was worked on, which is the early 1980s, was the era when Reagan was the President of the United States. It was during his presidency that the American culture and politics reflects conservatism: the inclination to maintain existing social order. It was also the period of time when mankind is moving from the industrial age to the information age.
Perhaps it was this progressive decade that people begin to develop a better understanding of human interaction; scholars at the time have taken the initiative to conduct studies on it. But the basis of the constructivist theory was derived from the theories that were conceived in the 1950s. From developing constructivism, efforts from these scholars in the communication field have ensued in “an impressive and sustained program of empirical research”? (Waltman, 2002).
The work of constructivists deals with the cognitive complexity of the studied individual. Those who are cognitively complex are understood to be capable of perceiving interpersonal messages better and forming more “elaborate impressions of others” (Waltman, 2002). A glimpse of the original constructivist research tool is assessing the complexity or depth of the answers given by subjects who are asked to describe a person they like and dislike. The more complex the perception of messages and interactions by the individual, the more person-centered and capable of achieving interpersonal communication goals the individual is.
Earlier constructivists have produced works that have little or no practical value, an aspect that has been argued upon by different sides of the community of theorists. Learning of this theory is unlikely to increase the cognitive complexity of the learner. Jesse Delia, the founder of the constructivist theory, states that a good theory need not have applied research attached to it.
To give a better understanding of this theory, the following situation shall be used as an example. A student argues with a teacher regarding a received grade; depending on the cognitive complexity, the student’s statement may vary. One that has expressive design logic would sound like this: “You are so unfair. You are always out to get me”? One that has conventional design logic might sound like this: “I worked hard on this project. Your expectations of me are higher than anyone else in this class because I am the only one who is a major.” One with rhetorical design logic may sound like this: “I would like to sit down with you and go over the grading of my project. I believe that if I have the chance to explain a bit more about what I did, you might be able to re-evaluate my grade. Additionally, I am unclear about some of the comment you made. I hope that through discussing it, I might get a better idea about exactly what it is that you expected to be done for this assignment.”? (Lane, 2001)
In this interaction between teacher and student, the latter intends to get a message across: his dissatisfaction with the grade given. What differs is the approach which the student undertakes in order to channel this message and the use of symbols. Those who are better capable of constructing meanings from symbols and interactional cues will express their concerns in a clearer manner. Constructivists, in their research, explore the learning processes, the analyzing of these symbols and beyond behind assembling symbols for responses.
The knowledge of constructivism is only a fraction of the understanding of communication theory. As mankind continues to attain wisdom studying ourselves, it would be of great advantage to study one’s interpretation of meaning.
Delia, J. G., O’ Keefe, B. J., & O’ Keefe, D. J. (1982). The constructivist approach to communication. In F. E. X. Dance (Ed.). Human communication theory (pp. 147-191). New York: Harper & Row.
Lane, D. R. (2001) Constructivism: Interpersonal Communication Context – Constructivism. Retrieved February 27, 2006, from http://www.uky.edu/~drlane/capstone/interpersonal/construct.html
Kelly, G. A. (1955). The psychology of personal constructs (2 vols.). New York: Norton.
Waltman, M. S. (2002). Developments in Constructivist Work in Communication Studies, Psychology, and Education: Introduction to the Special Section on Constructivism. American Communication Journal, vol. 5, issue 3.
Wikipedia contributors (2006). 1980s. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:18, February 23, 2006 from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=1980s&oldid=40763383.
Wood, J. T. (2004). Communication Theories in Action: An Introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.