by AndrewMc | 11/12/2009 02:02:00 PM
I'm at a conference on "eCitizenship" this week.

This three-year initiative is a partnership of AASCU and the Center for the Study of Citizenship at Wayne State University. Still in the beginning phases, the participating thirty-four institutions in this initiative will work together to study how emerging technologies, particularly social networks, support and facilitate civic and political engagement. The main goal of the initiative to provide insights into and strategies for engaging undergraduates in the use of social networks and technology tools for civic purposes. Those strategies can then be broadly employed to prepare undergraduates for lives of engagement and participation.

Fascinating stuff, and it's going to take a while to process it. Meantime, the tweets have been coming in here. Hopefully the video streaming will be archived here.

I've been particularly impressed by a few things.

There are a lot of men and women of different ages and colors. And they're all using so-called social media in some form or another. Some, like me, use it a great deal. From near-constant Facebooking and instant messaging, to blogging, to using Blackboard's content management system, other things, I am online a lot. Others are on social media sites very rarely, and mostly use e-mail and the "old" Web.

So this is a mix of stuff where I'm thinking "wow, I didn't know about that site" (Diigo, Mashable, &c), "I didn't know about that theoretical stuff on how to teach this stuff," and also round table discussions about the role of electronic media in fostering civic engagement.

Other stuff is incredibly mundane--right now someone is showing the crowd how to block personal information from Facebook friends, another is going to talk about Second Life.

But I'm learning a great deal about how this stuff might translate into the classroom and learning a lot about how people see this working, or not working, in our democracy.

I'm also seeing a great deal of wide-eyed cheerleading for things that aren't always there. For example, speaker after speaker has touted the use of Facebook as a way to promote civic engagement. And each one of them has pointed out that Facebook currently has 300 million or so users. OK, that's true. But in reality, nobody reaches all 300 million users, and most people are only going to reach a very small subset of that group.

Another problem arises within that. Take a moment and look at your friend list on Facebook, or the people who follow you on your Twitter feed if you have that. I'm betting that most of your Facebook friends are people who think mostly like you do. There's an application in Facebook to aggregate that data, actually. If you use it, check especially the percentage of your friends who share your political views.

Once again, much of this is about potential. But more so this is about new technology for an old media.

That is, in its way, a blog is something like an old colonial-era broadside but with better distribution. Many people published broadsides and left blank pages at the end for people to leave comments. I wonder, as a percentage of the population actually reached, where something like the Huffington Post would stand with regard to Common Sense. HuffPo probably reaches more, but it certainly is less topically focused.

Speaking of HuffPo, José Vargas has been the featured speaker here. He's a super-high energy guy with some really interesting ideas about blogging, "citizen journalism," and the way that blogs can shape, or be shaped, by public input. His talk was interesting and I hope will be on the streaming archives linked above.

Far more interesting with him was a small group discussion about the meaning of "citizen journalism," and how this is either good or bad for the way that people get news. Talking with him has been great, and I hope that he can get the HuffPo folks to start and education section on their site. It would be helpful.

In all, it's been an interesting few days. I don't usually enjoy this kind of all-day seminar stuff. Usually it's not all that educational. This one has been different and has brought out some very promising stuff.

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