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.

Labels: ,

Racing Goats

Nothing in life prepares you to witness an otherwise perfectly normal middle aged man, clad in a flowering pink dress, drunk beyond recognition, stooping down to look a goat earnestly in the eye, then proceeding to give the poor animal a pep talk before it is thrown unawares into a race with a half dozen equally confounded four legged creatures.

The Royal Ascot Goat Race, held on Lake Victoria, has the feel of a colonial era golf tournament cross-pollinated with a mad carnival fueled by bizarre costumes and crates upon crates of free champagne. A strange evening it was.

Labels: ,

Back from Zanzibar

Here are two things to know about traveling to Zanzibar:


As Frank Sinatra said: 'Some times you run into a streak of baaaaad luck.' I was bitten by a spitting Nairobi eye, which caused an infected quarter inch fissure to develop behind my right ear. The infection reached a gland on the right side of my neck, causing the whole area to balloon to the point where my jaw line has disappeared. I'm on exactly 6 different drugs to fight these infections: (i) Ramarix-anti-fungal (ii) paracetimol- awesome painkiller (iii) Ketrozol- anti-biotic (iv) doxycycline- another anti-biotic (v) hydrocloric acid- that I mix with 4 parts water and then pour into the open wound behind my head (vi) hydrocortisone cream. Needless to say, I spent the first half of my vacation sleeping, getting up to look at the stunningly blue Indian Ocean, and going back to sleep.


Zanzibar is known from its spices, and they make an unbelievably delicious pilau, a rice based dish. Here is a recipe. You should all make some. If not, you can order it at Zanzibar!

All in all, it was a much needed relaxing week, and one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Labels: ,

Hittin' Zanzibar

If I didn't live an hour and a half from the equator, I'd say I'm about to go through an end of summer transition. Someone very special to me is returning to the UK, the American students are heading home after an emotional and busy two weeks, and I'm starting a new job.

This summer, I've spent a few weeks in Tel Aviv, moved to Uganda, led two groups of Americans around this country, started this blog, and worked busily on other GYPA projects.

Before I start the 'Fall' and my new job, on Saturday morning I'm disappearing by myself to Zanzibar for some R&R. Nothing like a few days on a famous Tanzanian island to cap of a splendid summer.

Labels: ,

Just Back From Gulu

I've been offline for a while, spending four days in Gulu with the 11 students from the Think Again! Uganda Immersion. With the (hopefully long term) cessation of hostilities in the district, I was reminded that Gulu itself is a charming and pleasant town. Gulu is clean and laid out in a perfect British grid system. Most fascinating, however, is the colorful cast of characters that call Gulu home. These include an Israeli who runs THE bar in town: Havana Pub, a Somali-Ethiopian restauranter who also runs a construction business in Southern Sudan, and a slovenly Italian aid worker who reminds me of a combination of Jack Black and The Big Lebowski.

We spent alot of time going in depth on the conflict and the peace talks. However, most exciting for me was learning about local Acholi community members who are addressing the deeper demon of the conflict: the slow, 20-year destruction of Acholi culture and personal dignity. More on that soon.

It's good to be back in k'la city.

Labels: , ,

An Opening Conversation on Media in Uganda

An Opening Conversation on Media in Uganda

On Thursday night, The Think Again! Uganda Immersion participants arrived. Helping a gaggle of American students get their bearings in Kampala over a weekend is always a fun task, but they were kept steadily entertained, running errands and taking a tour on Friday, visiting some projects and a museum on Saturday, and going white water rafting on the Class 5 rapids at Jinja today.

In writing the program for Friday, I was hoping to help the students get a sense of the world of Ugandan media, both in terms of the breadth and depth of the coverage, but also of the big challenges the industry faces. I decided to bring 13 Mass Communications students from Makerere together with the Americans to have an introductory conversation on Ugandan media.

As predicted, a major theme in the conversation was the lack of nuanced coverage of the conflict in northern Uganda. There are two national papers, both in English, both run in Kampala and controlled by advertising interested in the capital. Each kingdom and tribe has a paper in their own language, but few people from other parts of Uganda can speak ‘foreign’ local dialects. Therefore, few people understand the way of life and the challenges of people outside of the capital and their own kingdom. (There are certainly extraordinary exceptions to that, but that is for a later post).

This led to what the Ugandan Mass Communications students considered a larger challenge: the massive disconnect and mistrust between the 4 kingdoms that were brought together under the name ‘Uganda’ at the Berlin Conference in 1884. In the first conversation of this two week Immersion, the students hit on what was one of the major themes of the June Immersion: Uganda is in need of a massive project of national unity (the type that I wrote about developing in Mali). This project would not just attempt to heal the mistrust built by the 20 year conflict in the north, but also address the deeper and longer history of animosity between the kingdoms that began (or in some cases was continued) during the British mandate.

This national unity project requires boldness on the part of politicians, community and cultural leaders. Certainly, journalists play a role. Tomorrow the group will speak with three of the country’s leading journalists, and later in the day with its leading marketeers, and one of the things we’ll have an opportunity to delve into the role of journalists in the project of national unity.

Labels: , ,

Two Weeks of Immersion Fun

I'm incredibly pumped for the next two weeks. I get to lead an amazing Global Youth Partnership for Africa (GYPA) program in Kampala and Gulu. Check it.

Student Global Ambassadors (SGA): THINK AGAIN! MEDIA AND JOURNALISM! Uganda Immersion

August 2nd- August 18th


Throughout the international media, images abound of the African failure. While there is argument over whether Africans are victims of neo-colonialism or self-destruction, few challenge that Africa is in a constant cycle of mega-crisises; infectious disease, terrorism, insecurity and failed states and leadership. With issues like the war in northern Uganda, HIV/AIDS prevention strategies, and rampant poverty, Uganda serves as a prescient microcosm for Africa's challenges.

While the scope of Uganda's development challenges should not be underestimated, neither should the possibilities for a better future. A new generation of young leaders has both the courage and skills to make a difference locally and for their country. These leaders undoubtedly hold the keys to the future for Uganda’s prosperity, however, their stories are little known.


1. Expose young Americans involved in media to stories that challenge the mainstream narrative of Ugandan helplessness

2. Youth leaders will document these stories and their enterprising and innovative projects.

3. Explore and plan concrete ways, through the use of media, to encourage Americans to think again about Africa, in ways that both encourage understanding and promote practical action for change. I expect both the conversations and the media products created will be extraordinary. Check back here and on the GYPA blog for stories and podcasts.

While I won't have time for anything else in my life for the next two weeks, I expect both the conversations and the media products created will be extraordinary. Check back here and on the GYPA blog for stories and podcasts.