Media Richness TheoryPosted by Time Barrow on September 13th, 2009
Categories: dissertation, media theory
During my TTU Presentation in May, Dr. Eaton noted that I ought to check out media richness theory, since I might find some hints at these terms I’m trying to define, such as what I know I was incorrectly calling “humanness” (watch for upcoming posts on new terms). I’ve looked into this theory and see how it fits in with what I am doing.
Media richness theory, proposed by Daft and Lengel in 1984, essentially states that task performance increases when the task needs are matched to the medium’s richness. In other words, if I use the medium with a richness level most accurately suited to a given task to communicate that information about the task to an individual, the individual’s performance of that task will improve. Additionally, the theory suggests that individuals predictably favor the use of specific communication media to perform certain tasks. Specifically, that rich media are a more likely to be found appropriate for “equivocal” communication, which occurs more in complex tasks.
Daft and Lengel define the richness of media as the ability of information to change understanding within a time interval. The theory argues that the richness of media differs between media types, with face-to-face communication being richer then communicating via email for example. The richness of media is determined by four characteristics (Dennis and Valacich 1999):
Language Variety – The ability to convey natural language rather than just numeric information
Multiplicity of Cues – The number of ways in which information could be communicated
Personalization – The ability to personalize the message
Rapid Feedback – The ability to respond to the communicator in real (or near-real?) time
The more a medium possesses these characteristics, the richer it is.
To apply this theory directly to my research of the online video conversation in the classroom is somewhat difficult, since–as various scholars have pointed out (Schoon and van Velzen, Dennis, Valacich, et al.)–a main point where Media Richness Theory fails is the fact that the theory was developed in a time where there were no technologies like videoconference. These kinds of technology are, according to DeRosa, (2004) superrich.
So, the online video conversation in the online asynchronous classroom (containing no face-to-face element) would be superrich and, in the chart above, would reside below face-to-face and video conferencing, since the level of rapid feedback is just short of live at best