Teaching Communication: Crossing Paths, Expanding Connections

The past three weeks have gone fast. Time flies the first months of the year. It is mid February and it feels I am a Bogotanian again. Walking sidewalks fool of geographic accidents, taking little shoes taxi cabs, and riding busetas. Now in a a new role as a professor and living in Chapinero, a neighborhood I never experienced before. The city has changed a lot in the past decade and although I visited it every year during my time abroad, living in it, makes me realize in a different way the transformations in cultures, economies, weather, and flows. Everyday Bogota is still chaotic, rich, an surprising. However, the city has become more cosmopolitan, diverse, and full of flavors. More people is in the streets, not only walking but also riding bikes, skates, and motorcycles, and the amenities have multiplied exponentially. Particularly in the food sector the city is full of offerings that cover all kind of international cuisines and price ranges. Despite the usual complains of Bogotanians about their city and its government, I have the feeling it has improved a lot. It remains a great place for exploration, and I am re-discovering it as a great place for research and teaching.

Fast transitions are good because they force you to quickly adapt to new environments. Adjusting practices, identities, roles, seems to work better if you avoid thinking too much about them. When big changes happen, it is better to be in action. Doing. Making. Taking challenges. Solving problems and experimenting. As assistant professor in the department of communication at Universidad Javeriana, I took the challenge of teaching two classes, and also joined several committees that are working in restructuring the Communication major, creating a Media Lab, and launching of a new doctoral program.

Not surprisingly, my new academic department is also in transition. As the oldest Communication department in the country (this year is its 70th birthday), it is trying to adjust to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. How would you teach communication in the information age? What are the skills that communication professionals need in the digital era? In times where communication technologies have become part of almost all social domains and economic sectors, how would you define the communication field?

“Signs of Culture,” and “Communication and Interactivity” are the two classes I am teaching this term. For the first I have two groups of thirty students, and for the latter just one. Although most of the students come from the communication major, there is some degree of interdisciplinarity with participants from design, literature, political science, sociology, and business administration. Communication is an ambiguous field, mutating, changing its scope as technological progress keeps redefining its scope. In a technology driven society such as the one we live, it should not be a surprise that we practice the field of communication as a transdisciplinary enterprise. This is how I have approached to the two undergrad classes I am teaching this semester. This is also how I have approached to communication during my own intellectual, research, and creative journey.

The push for crossing disciplinary boundaries seems to me a quite natural move when researching social, economic, cultural and other problems. How could one understand politics, cultures, economies, and everyday life with the methods and tools of just one social science or humanities? Back in the 1990s and 2000s while being an undergrad student, curious about understanding the explosive Colombian reality I decided to combine the study of political science with the study of literature as a way of understanding the sensibilities, and imaginaries that spread in my country. It was precisely that crossing of boundaries what also allowed me to find an ambiguous space for doing theory and practice, research and creation, in a way that was generative and productive.

Today, after just a few weeks of teaching, and several committee meetings, I am intrigued, curious, and excited about the field of communication. As someone who has touched, jumped, dived, immersed in it during the past 20 years it is exciting to have the opportunity to contribute to building an ever expanding field. The challenges are many. It is not an easy task to give coherence to a program that has six different concentrations and that teachers 1800 undergrads. The scale is massive. The potential is big. In a country with so many social and political conundrums, it is perhaps at the level of communication where we should start. That is actually how the project of the Colombian nation started. Imagined as a colossal republic back in the 19th century,. Lived as a new nation back in the 20th century. We should be ready to re-imagined and re-build it as a livable, inclusive, and diverse place in the 21st century.

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