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MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Initiative

Building on its strengths in the area of youth and civic engagement, CCCE is engaged in collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative. The MacArthur Initiative is a major effort to improve understanding of how digital technologies can and are being used to reshape the way youth learn. Its six projects explore how young people use digital technologies through language, games, and social interaction, as well as in more conventional education applications. The focus is on how these uses of digital media can enhance the way youth develop skills for creativity, judgment, learning and systematic thinking.

The CCCE contribution to the Digital Media & Learning Initiative is in the area of digital learning and civic engagement. In 2006, the MacArthur Foundation (through a grant administered by the New Media Consortium) selected CCCE Director Lance Bennett to lead a civic engagement initiative in an effort to understand how digital media offer young people new ways of engaging with politics and public life. Bennett helped assemble a team of international experts, both scholars and practitioners, representing a broad range of experience in the field. Following a number of meetings, both physical and virtual, the team produced the volume Civic Life Online: Learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth (2008, M. I. T. Press). The volume includes chapters by Lance Bennett, Mike Xenos, Kirsten Foot, Kathryn Montgomery, Jennifer Earl, Alan Schussman, Howard Rheingold, Peter Levine, Luke Walker, Kate Raynes-Goldie, Marina Bers, and Stephen Coleman. All the chapters can be downloaded for free here.

Background on the MacArthur Civic Engagement Project

Young people experience a world that is often not friendly to political, or even public, expression. Many learn early on that politics and public issues are not fun or popular topics of discussion or concern. At the same time, no generation has ever been more intimately acquainted with communication media that can instantly connects large numbers of people as public producers and consumers of information and opportunities to act. The Civic Engagement project explores the nexus of these conditions in the lives of contemporary young people: How do young people use digital communication technologies to engage in politics? What are the sorts of politics they engage in? What are their favored styles for involvement? How can educators, governments, activists, and youth themselves use digital technologies to better engage these citizens in the making? An interview with Professor Bennett discussing the Civic Engagement Project is available here. His posts on the MacArthur Spotlight Blog also provide a good introduction to the topic, along with helpful links.

Online Discussion with Leading Experts. A highlight of the project was an online discussion in October, 2006 with leading thinkers in the fields of youth development, civic engagement, digital learning, and uses of digital technologies. This fascinating discussion includes rich references to the state of knowledge in these areas, along with anecdotes about novel political uses of digital technologies. The conversation is enlivened with debates about the possible emergence of politics in online communities such as games and fan networks. The discussion ranges over the field’s cutting edge research, and raises questions about the very nature of citizenship and civic and political engagement. Here is an archived version of that discussion. Following this discussion, Bennett explored what he saw as some of the fault lines running through the conversation in a blog post and paper.

Civic Learning Online

The CCCE Digital Media and Civic Learning Project addresses the question of how informal online environments can effectively engage the citizenship and learning styles of younger generations.

Digital media technologies offer unprecedented opportunities to help young citizens learn to engage with public life. Many young citizens are interested in learning how to advocate for their own causes and to develop more effective public voices. At the same time, they often have uneven experiences with developing effective organization and public voice skills. Learning how to develop public voices and sustainable networks can be enhanced through access to digital public networking, content production, distribution technologies and skills training. Effective and satisfying application of such digital voice and networking technologies requires scholars and practitioners to develop clearer standards about how various tools and online communities actually advance particular civic learning goals. We aim to create a set civic learning standards and tools to help young people develop effective public voices and sustainable advocacy networks. These standards will be useful for youth workers and other online community developers to review and align their practices.

This project involves three main areas:

  • A review and synthesis of perspectives on youth identity, civic learning and engagement both online and offline. The outcome will be a set of standards for defining key civic learning goals and assessing differing approaches to civic learning online.
  • These civic learning standards will be used to evaluate a broad sample of over 40 predominantly U.S. (also some Canadian and British) online youth engagement sites and programs. This evaluation will take into account differences in civic learning opportunities, the nature of community decision-making and governance, social networking applications, varieties of participatory media content creation, and what these elements suggest about the implicit citizen identity styles being engaged.
  • An assessment and review of the Seattle digital youth commons, named Puget Sound Off by the teens designing it. PSO is a youth engagement web environment housing many issue and interest communities. Founded through a partnership between the City of Seattle, CCCE and the Seattle Metrocenter YMCA, PSO involves hands-on participation from a diverse spectrum of regional teens ages 13- 18. Youth learn about using participatory media to develop public voice and organize effective action. They also participate in design decisions and share site management and editorial responsibilities. With the aid of the MacArthur grant, CCCE will bring in outside experts to review learning goals, participatory media curriculum, site networking features, and youth participation and management practices. This phase of the project will document procedures for building partnerships with youth organizations and service learning, and identify practices that sustain youth governance. We also plan to explore partnerships with libraries as youth access points and as co-sponsors of community games and other civic networking activities.
For an executive summary of this project, please click here. Also visit Civic Learning Online, our ongoing practitioner blog featuring conversations, debates, news, and project documentation. Puget Sound Off, the Seattle youth digital media commons, will launch in mid March.