Civic Engagement

How to Answer John Gardner’s Challenge

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John W. Gardner (1912-2001, no relation) was the most impressive public citizen of my time. Trained as a psychologist, president of the Carnegie Foundation at an early age, and a dedicated public servant who served as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the cabinet of President Lyndon Johnson, Gardner achieved his most important influence in the latter part of his life, as a private citizen. He launched and helped guide important initiatives like Common Cause, the Independent Sector, the White House Fellowship, and Encore; of equal importance, he served as a role model and mentor


Making Upstanders in Today’s World

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Oppression happens. So, what can students do? How can young people become upstanders (people who stand up for social justice and equality) in their communities? In the fourth of a four-part Connected Learning TV and Facing History and Ourselves webinar series, activists and educators tackled those questions. The webinar speakers — Mary Hendra, who leads the Los Angeles program team for Facing History and Ourselves; Jon Lego, who teaches at Animo Jackie Robinson High School in Los Angeles; Emily Weisberg, a program associate for Facing History and Ourselves; Andrew Slack, co-founder of the Harry Potter Alliance; Milton Reynolds, a senior program


Game Impact: New Report on Field Cohesion

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After more than a decade, the field of social impact games may be mature enough to step back and investigate how “impact” is understood. To start the conversation, Games for Change has released a new report, published by ETC Press. (The report was co-authored by myself, Nicole Walden, Gerad O’Shea, Francesco Nasso, Giancarlo Mariutto and Asi Burak.  Our advisory group included game scholars and designers like Tracy Fullerton, Debra Lieberman and Constance Steinkuehler.) Right now may be an inflexion point in the evolution of games in the public interest — from civic learning to fighting asthma.


The Digital Imagination of Government

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In the UK, the last year or so has seen a massive proliferation of interest in digital education right across the spectrum of the public, private and civil society sectors. Digital education has now become the focus for a cross-sector “network” of interests and concerns, and, as a result, is now becoming “governmentalized” as a seriously political business. The consequence of this network of interest is the production of a shared vision of the digital future of society that digital education is to play a part in making into an attainable reality. Digital Government Visions In


New Media’s Role in Participatory Politics

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Social network sites, websites and text increasingly serve as a conduit for political information and a major public arena where citizens express and exchange their political ideas, raise funds and mobilize others to vote, protest and work on public issues. In “Youth, New Media, and the Rise of Participatory Politics,” a working paper authored by me, my Mills College colleague Ellen Middaugh, and Danielle Allen, of the Institute for Advanced Study, we address how the ascendency of today’s new media may be introducing fundamental changes in political expectations and practices. This work grows out of the


Capabilities of Movements and Affordances of Digital Media: Paradoxes of Empowerment

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From the “Indignados” in Spain, to “Occupy” in the United States, from Tahrir Square in Egypt to Syntagma Square in Greece, from Gezi Park in Turkey to #Euromaidan in Ukraine, the recent years have witnessed a proliferation of protests which, while embedded in differing circumstances and specific grievances, share multiple characteristics. Social media, an integral aspect of all these movements, is not a mere “tool” that is external to the organizational and cultural structure of these movements. Instead, it has become increasingly clear that communication is a form of organization, and the form of communication strongly


New Media, New Civics? The Bellwether Lecture at the Oxford Internet Institute

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The Oxford Internet Institute was kind enough to invite me to give the inaugural lecture in their Bellwether Series. The OII’s director, Professor Helen Margetts, introduced the series explaining that she hoped talks would anticipate what is to come in the space of internet and society…and explained that the word “Bellwether” came from a middle English word for a castrated ram, who was fitted with a bell and made to lead a flock of sheep. That’s pretty ominous compared to my assumption when I was invited, which was that they found someone named Bellwether to sponsor


Learning from Healthcare.gov

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“But I just want to remind everybody, we did not wage this long and contentious battle just around a website.” – Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President on the Affordable Care Act,” Oct. 21, 2013 The disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov gives an opportunity for everyone invested in digital media and learning initiatives to reflect critically about what we do and to ask some hard questions.  Although it may be “just” a website, according to the president, the flawed federal Internet portal intended to enroll millions of consumers into a system of affordable healthcare coverage exposes a


Pollution Challenge! and Civic Learning with Video Games

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I can’t play video games. I forget this simple fact every couple of years and a dark cloud swoops over Casa Garcia and I am enveloped in the feverish button mashing of some complex simulation for a hazy month or two. I have the kind of personality where, once I’ve begun playing a game, I am consumed. In high school, around the time I should have been doing research on colleges, keeping up with homework, and diligently eyeing my GPA as an eager-to-get-into-my-preferred-university high school junior, I started playing the Sims. The sandbox-like nature of the


Human Rights and Social Media in India: Blank Noise

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On a recent visit to Sarai, a Delhi research think tank housed in the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, I met a number of female university students who described participating in the mass protests that occurred after a 23-year-old physiotherapy student was raped and murdered in what many perceived as an event that unleashed a torrent of dissent to express longstanding dissatisfaction about lax policing and prosecution of crimes against women in India.  Participants recounted assaults at demonstrations that included braving tear gas, water cannons, and violent interruptions by police of the peaceful sharing