Shared knowledge, body language, and time: A collaborative model of communication

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Douglas Biklen


Shared knowledge, Body language, Time, Collaborative, Communication

Subject Categories

Communication | Education | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Special Education and Teaching


Communication has been studied in many disciplines and in a variety of ways. In this qualitative study, nine nonspeaking participants with augmentative means of verbal communication and their communication partners showed how they do communication and how they think about it. Participant observations and conversations based upon them form the centerpiece of the nine month inquiry. The contributions of the augmentative communication users, of whom seven employed facilitated communication and two utilized independent methods of augmentative communication, are highlighted throughout.

Communication has been conceptualized variously as a means of information exchange (Shannon & Weaver, 1949) or as a collaborative process (Clark, 1996), constructed in the social interaction (Blumer, 1969; Mead, 1934). In this study, nonspeaking and speaking participants overwhelmingly viewed communication as a collaborative process in which nonspeaking and speaking communication partners actively work together, utilizing various shared knowledges, body language, and verbal means of communication to create joint meaning. Nondisabled participants were frequently concerned about authorship issues, wondering to what extent collaboratively produced messages were co-authored. The nonspeaking participants, however, valued their real-time conversational participation and their ability to simply be heard, regardless of the level of collaboration needed for construction or interpretation of messages.

The participants' extensive use and thinking about collaboration is illustrated in three chapters. The participants highlighted shared cultural, situational, and linguistic knowledge as central to collaboration and thus communication. Their thinking about body language was closely related: Nonspeakers frequently had to rely on body language to communicate, which in turn required extensive interpretive collaboration from the nondisabled interactants. Lastly, participants emphasized the need for close collaboration to gain access to verbal communication and to meet the time demands of ordinary conversation.

With its emphasis on the perspectives of nonspeaking participants, this study further grounds collaborative communication theories by adding to the diversity on which they are based. The study makes clear that practice and research in augmentative and facilitated communication needs to be focused on creating opportunities for verbal conversational participation and for extensive collaboration in the communication process.


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