We teach the same models of communication today that we taught forty years ago. This can and should be regarded as a mark of the enduring value of these models in highlighting key elements of that process for students who are taking the process apart for the first time. It remains, however, that the field of communication has evolved considerably since the 1960's, and it may beappropriate to update our models to account for that evolution. This paper presents the classic communication models that are taught in introducing students to interpersonal communication and mass communication, including Shannon's information theory model (the active model), a cybernetic model that includes feedback (the interactive model, an intermediary model (sometimes referred to as a gatekeepermodel of the two-step flow), and the transactive model. It then introduces a new ecological model of communication that, it is hoped, more closely maps to the the range of materials we teach and research in the field of communication today. This model attempts to capture the fundamental interaction of language, medium, and message that enables communication, the socially constructed aspects of eachelement, and the relationship of creators and consumers of messages both to these elements and each other.
While the field of communication has changed considerably over the last thirty years, the models used in the introductory chapters of communication textbooks (see Adler, 1991; Adler, Rosenfeld, and Towne, 1996; Barker and Barker, 1993; Becker and Roberts, 1992; Bittner, 1996;Burgoon, Hunsaker, and Dawson, 1994; DeFleur, Kearney, and Plax, 1993; DeVito, 1994; Gibson and Hanna, 1992; Wood, 2002) are the same models that were used forty years ago. This is, in some sense, a testament to their enduring value. Shannon's (1948) model of the communication process (Figure 1) provides, in its breakdown of the flow of a message from source to destination, an excellent breakdown ofthe elements of the communication process that can be very helpful to students who are thinking about how they communicate with others. It remains, however, that these texts generally treat these models as little more than a baseline. They rapidly segue into other subjects that seem more directly relevant to our everyday experience of communication. In interpersonal communication texts thesesubjects typically include the social construction of the self, perception of self and other, language, nonverbal communication, listening, conflict management, intercultural communication, relational communication, and various communication contexts, including work and family. In mass communication texts these subjects typically include media literacy, media and culture, new media, media industries,media audiences, advertising, public relations, media effects, regulation, and media ethics.
There was a time when our communication models provided a useful graphical outline of a semesters material. This is no longer the case. This paper presents the classic models that we use in teaching communication, including Shannon's information theory model (the active model), a cybernetic model thatincludes feedback (the interactive model, an intermediary model (sometimes referred to as a gatekeeper model of the two-step flow), and the transactive model. Few textbooks cover all of these models together. Mass Communication texts typically segue from Shannon's model to a two-step flow or gatekeeper model. Interpersonal texts typically present Shannon's model as the "active" model of thecommunication process and then elaborate it with interactive (cybernetic) and transactive models. Here we will argue the value of update these models to better account for the way we teach these diverse subject matters, and present a unifying model of the communication process that will be described as an ecological model of the communication process. This model seeks to better represent the structure...