Co-Constructing Meaning through Language

Constructing the Syllabus
~ “Lecture” Two ~

Interpersonal communication is a dense and complicated area of human behavior. The assigned text provides many topics and a range of approaches for study. Different teachers will frame the subject in their own unique way, prioritizing elements, models, and concepts based on intellectual beliefs and pedagogical values. Such framing is accomplished primarily through the syllabus. Syllabi function to establish a timeline for planning and a sequence of topics for the production of knowledge.
Intellectually, I believe there are many kinds of knowledge and that people know things in diverse ways. The way we come to knowledge is through communication: broadly defined as our exposure to all mediums &emdash; including nature (plants, animals, the weather) and human institutions such as family, church, school &emdash; as well as the media per se, television, radio, movies, videogames, music, the internet, etc. The gamut of input is vast. Some kind of management is necessary to order our amazing capacities of perception into sensible distinctions among the important and less so, the unusual and normal, the routine and the extraordinary. The tool that accomplishes mental and emotional organization for human beings is language.
How we speak, what we say and do not say, when we choose to maintain silence or to participate, to whom we speak and with whom we do not, are all actions (or behaviors) with the potential for meaning. I emphasize “potential” because &emdash; contrary to common sense &emdash; I do not believe that meaning is fixed. This intellectual view is known as social constructionism. Words, of course, have dictionary definitions, and yet . . . most words (in English, the language we use for this course) have more than one meaning, or have nuanced variations that depend upon the context. Sometimes words even mean the opposite of their dictionary definition because they are uttered ironically!
There are several pedagogical implications associated with the intellectual belief in social construction. Pedagogy is a fancy term for how one teaches: specifically, what are the values and philosophy a teacher brings to the process of education; and, how are these intangible attitudes applied in the actual practice of teaching? My bedrock value is that education is always a two-way street. I learn from and with you just as you learn with and from your peers and I. We learn together. (We make meaning together.) This essential philosophy guides me to experiential learning. I aim to design courses in such a way that we experience the subject matter, noticing and reflecting upon our own “ways” and becoming more conscious of how we coordinate our own ways with the ways of others.
The subject matter of interpersonal communication offers an unparalleled opportunity to explore the juncture among language, social construction, and experiential learning. The online format presents certain challenges &emdash; for instance, we will not be able to explore our own nonverbal communication with each other (but we can observe in our daily lives, describe these observations, and discuss our thinking about them). At the same time, the class is small enough that we can engage productively &emdash; unlike large lectures at the University where one professor, Vernon Cronen, often includes on his syllabus: “Interpersonal Communication &emdash; without any.” We will have plenty. ­čÖé

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