Saturday, December 10, 2005

Modeling Communication Theories

At one time, I had hoped to teach a graduate seminar at Indiana on computational modeling of communication theories. Due to the modeling strengths of Indiana's cognitive science program, a strong core of the Telecom Ph.D. students have the requisite background in modeling to undertake such a seminar. That seminar never came to fruition, but I am beginning to think toward such a seminar at Ohio State.

Theories are wonderful things. They allow what one scholar calls "abstract direct reasoning." However, formal computational models allow scientists to do more. The models themselves can be taken apart, toyed with, and simulated in a fashion not possible with the real world -- especially real human subjects. I believe that more communication science needs to involve this type of formal modeling.

Although the hypothesized course is still at least two years away, I envision a class similar in structure to John Kruschke's Q550 course at IU. The quarter system at OSU would be a challenge, but I believe the class could me managed.

The course would be built around the MATLAB programming language and its graphical user interface builder, GUIDE. The first three weeks would involve parallel goals of introducing formal models of communication theories and MATLAB programming. Because modeling in communication is relatively young, we would need a small core of pet models in the field.

During weeks four through six, students would begin to program an experiment to collect data for their model, and we would work through the code of an existing model.

Week seven would be dedicated to data collection, where we would all serve as subjects for one another's experiments. Students would begin to program their own models.

The final three weeks would be devoted to model programming and student presentations. We would learn from one another and get exposed to several models. Finally, the quarter would end in a poster session where we present model fits, etc.

Hopefully the seminar would not end there. It is my long-standing goal that this seminar would feed into a panel submission for the International Communication Association and an eventual edited book. With some notable exceptions, including my colleague Ed Palazzolo, formal computational modeling is rare in communication. I believe this edited volume would prove to be a fascinating introductory reader for interested communication scholars.

To see other scholars bringing modeling to communication science, see the work of David Roskos-Ewoldsen at Alabama.

Finally, for an excellent discussion of the difference between theories and models, I encourage you to read philosopher Michael Weisberg's paper, Who Is a Modeler?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sam , this all brought back those wonderful memories of our discussions about modeling, and wiesberg's lecture that we attended together.
i hope your dream class will make it this time. Don't give up! and hey may be i will take it then :)

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