A Conversation on Best Practices: New Technologies in Campus Civic Engagement

It is now beyond doubt that new technology can be utilized for a richer, more inclusive democracy. One practical question: If universities should be places that prepare students for citizenship, what tools can student organizers, professors and technologists utilize to make this preparation practical in a digitalized world.

Campus Compact, an organization at the center of the civic renewal movement, is an important consortium of American university leaders who recognize that universities play a vital role in strengthening democracy and building communities. For their 20th Anniversary celebration this October in Chicago, I've been invited to submit a paper on New Media and Building Global Citizenship.

My goal in developing this paper is to demonstrate the practical ways that new media tools such as blogs, vlogs, wikis, and podcasts (also know as participatory or personal media), can sync with traditional teaching and organizing methods to enrich campus life by helping students and faculty engage in a productive conversation, both with the campus and global community.

While I have been an avid follower of the emergence of new media, my background is as an organizer, advocate and writer, not a technologist. If you know of a technology or application that is or could be used to help campuses engage in their communities, please comment below! I will be posting the comments as I receive them. A preliminary list:


Student Groups and Video Conferencing

Since 9/11, campus groups have been have video conference conversations with their counterparts all around the world. Americans for Informed Democracy (AID), a group I have worked extensively with, is a leader in organizing campus videoconferencing. http://www.aidemocracy.org/Initiative.cfm?initiative_id=vcorganizer

Student Groups and Blogs

A common critique, especially at large universities, is that many representative student groups don't have a realistic forum for students to give opinions and participate. Blogs for campus campaigns, or even residence hall policy discussions, can allow a busy, mobile community to have an organized and relevant discussion.

Campus or Classroom Wiki

Open Source project collaboration is the future. Students must learn how to productively engage in this meritocratic struggle of ideas. Professors or campus leaders can create a group wiki about a specific challenge (where to do with an open campus space, how to create a survey of attitudes of immigrants working in campus positions).

Podcasting Study Abroad Experience

As an undergraduate, I submitted articles about my travel experiences in Latin America, Africa and Europe. The editor often rejected them because he wanted to only publish pieces 'directly relevant' to campus life. We all know he missed the point that in a globalized world the scope of relevancy is greatly expanded. Using podcasts or blogs to tell your experiences is a way to broaden the media forums available to students.

Challenging Media Stereotypes

Campuses can create online forums to comment on and critique local, regional, or national stories.

Cheaper Student Travel and Collaborative Technology

Cheaper airfare must be included as an available new tool. We have already seen a massive rise in studying abroad, but we are also now beginning to see a massive interest in serious, short term, practitioner programs, that offer students a short term abroad experience (usually in a poor country) and then a technological forum for them to continue to innovate and work with the young leaders they met during their travels. I lead such trips to Uganda with GYPA


Service Learning/Classroom/Study Abroad Hybrid Programs

A few campuses are developing exciting, yearlong programs where students contribute to a technical challenge in a poor community (create access to fresh water, marketing for a microfinance project). They spend the first semester on their campus learning technical skills (from professors) and advocacy skills (from service learning staff) and then spend the next six months in the poor community contributing to this project.

Challenging Professors

Sometimes professors give off the perception that what they teach in the classroom is the dogma of the disciple and students rarely have the opportunity to question or confirm this. Blog searchers, crawlers and wikis can see who is responding to, challenging and engaging with the ideas that are often taken as gospel in the classroom.

I know this is an incomplete list, and I'm fascinated to hear suggestions from students, professors, activists/organizers/advocates and technologists about tools I may have missed. My paper will be published in essay form, with background on the emergence of new technologies, but I hope to submit an appendix with links to the practical tools that are (or could be) used to increase democracy and community engagement in the classroom, community and wider world.

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  • Josh, this looks like a great starting list. I think an important point that you're hitting is that remember that technology is a tool that enables an incredible set of new communications and collaborations that might not otherwise be possible. Thinking of technology as a tool is valuable a)for making technology accessible and viable for self-identified technophobes and b) for ensuring that the enthusiasm about new technology isn't abstract but grounded in the way that it helps achieve both new and long-standing social and educational goals.

    I think another important conversation with all this is to what extent traditional "curricular/extracurricular/cocurricular" boundaries are breaking down, and what we should be doing to harness that potential. As a recent graduate of Northwestern and director of a variety of international engagement programs, I've definitely noticed more and more students who do not view their "extracurricular" learning as distinct or entirely seperable from their in-classroom. Universities get this, but are scrambling to figure out what the hell it means for their market viability as educational institutions. I think this is why there's such a push for "non-traditional learning experiences" like service learning, university-sponsored civic engagement programs, etc...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:20 AM  

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