Principles of undergraduate education

The educational mission of undergraduate study in the Department of Communication is to prepare students for the challenges of a society that is informed, entertained, persuaded, and shaped by communication. We seek out and appeal to students from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. We nurture socially responsible, literate citizens who can interpret and evaluate the images and messages they create and receive. We teach students to think critically, respect diversity, communicate effectively, and develop the skills needed for the life-long learning that is central to successful careers and rewarding lives. Undergraduate study in communication at the University of Washington has four pedagogical emphases: communication literacy, communication inquiry, theory and concepts, and community engagement. The department integrates these to create a curriculum that helps students become thoughtful, informed, and articulate citizens.

Communication literacy

Communication literacy is the critical awareness of the central role of communication in society, and faculty in the Department of Communication believe that it is the foundation of a thoughtful and engaged citizenry. Communication literacy includes two primary components: recognition of the important influences of social context and institutions, mass media and other communication technologies, law and ethics, rhetoric, and language in all its forms; and a reflective approach to one’s own participation in the creation, exchange, and reception of meaning through communication. Students majoring in communication develop their literacy through a wide range of courses, and many students throughout the University of Washington enroll in COM 220 (Public Speaking) and related courses.

Communication inquiry

Communication scholars share the goal of investigating and helping others better understand communication processes, and they use a wide variety of approaches and methods to arrive at their conclusions. Department faculty believe it is important to introduce students to forms of scholarly inquiry that are used frequently to study communication in a range of contexts, including face-to-face interactions, public discourse, mass media, and digital media. Courses emphasize a diverse collection of methods that draw from intellectual traditions in the humanities and social sciences and include qualitative and quantitative approaches, such as criticism, textual and content analysis, ethnography, experimentation, survey research, and historical study.

Theory and concepts

Department faculty believe that a sophisticated understanding of communication includes an ability to formulate explanations for why, how, and with what implications communication occurs. Development of such an ability necessitates awareness of important concepts, consideration of potential linkages among concepts, and facility in abstract reasoning. Several courses introduce students to core concepts in communication scholarship with the goal of developing theoretical perspectives that shed light on the complex and myriad forms of communication. Often these core concepts are best understood in context; thus, students gain depth in their studies by emphasizing coursework in a specific conceptual area, such as international communication, social interaction, or communication technology and society.

Community Engagement

An understanding of communication becomes socially and culturally transformative when persons are actively engaged in community life. Department faculty believe that active involvement includes engagement through criticism and analysis of contemporary communication events or direct action on current public issues in local, national, or global communities. With this in mind, several undergraduate courses and internships in the department provide opportunities for students to apply their understanding of communication to public problems. It is the faculty’s goal to encourage students to realize the potential for communication scholarship to make a difference in the larger community.

Student Diversity

The Department of Communication is committed to a welcoming and inclusive cultural environment. Outreach efforts to build a well-rounded student body include periodic public lectures with topics and speakers of relevance and an annual event (e.g., a half-day conference or a luncheon) that involves a conversation, dialogue, or presentations on issues of communication and identity. The department partners with campus organizations for these efforts, and students are given opportunities to design and participate in the activities.