New Communication Tools and Building Global Citizenship

March 9, 2009


New Communication Tools and Building Global Citizenship

Theme: Global Citizenship

Joshua Goldstein
Associate Director
Youth Partnership for America, DC
Constituent Group:
Students / Recent Graduates
Jeremy Goldberg
Executive Director
Youth Partnership for America, DC
Constituent Group:

New communication tools are fundamentally altering the way our society reads the news, expresses creativity, socializes and shops. Just as with the development of every new technology, these same communication tools can be used for enhancing community understanding, citizenship and service-learning. If the campus is the microcosm that prepares students for citizenship in diverse and increasingly globalized democracy, campus leaders, including students and educators, should take the lead in utilizing these new communication tools for global learning and citizenship. This paper aims to examine these new tools and suggest how students and educators can use these tools to better prepare students for citizenship in a globalized world.

By every conceivable measurement, the era of ‘mass’ media is over. Major newspapers and network news, where professional journalists interpret the world for millions of readers and viewers, are quickly losing readers and viewers. In its place are the tools of what can be deemed ‘participatory’ media. Blogs, vlogs, podcasts, wikis and vlogs are all characterized by low barriers to access (you don’t need to pay to create or consume them), and the ability to unite people with various interests around the globe. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 57% of American teenagers create content for the internet- from text to pictures, music and video.’

Even technophobes have some understanding that new technologies are changing the way the world works. However, just because the medium of communication changes doesn’t mean society changes, right? Wrong. The immersion of ‘participatory’ media fundamentally alters the connection between how we understand the world (media consumption) and how we decide to take action in the world (citizen activity).

Here are two brief examples (one global, one local) to illustrate the pervasiveness of this phenomenon:


One reason African countries have failed to develop is that their competent practitioner and intellectual elite have lacked networks and access to good ideas. Blogs about Africa have changed this. There are two type of blogs about Africa: practitioner blogs and cultural blogs. Practitioner blogs are written by concerned communities of professionals around the world who are serious about helping to solve Africa’s vast challenges. They exchange ideas and best practices, and engage in a debate about the biggest issues facing Africa. These ideas are often adopted with local twists to creatively solve public problems.

The Online Election

Never again will an American gubernatorial or national candidate ignore the extraordinary organizing and fundraising power of the Internet. This is exemplified in the commonly known story of Howard Dean. Dean’s campaign utilized a tool called, which allowed citizens to meet locally to support their candidate. By the end of the campaign, Dean had 189,040 Meetup supporters in 1,100 locations across America1. The 2008 elections will no doubt see a massive increase in this phenomenon.

Many of the traditional tools of citizen organizing are becoming obsolete. How can the campus prepare students for global citizenship in a world whose civic infrastructure is so rapidly changing? The remainder of this essay will outline the three most prominent ways phenomenon that campus leaders (both students, educators and service learning professionals) can utilize to encourage global learning and citizenship. Most of the tools of this list are in very early stages of development, and it is up to collaboration amongst service learning advocates, educators and students to improve and enhance them.

It is important to note that we have purposefully not separated tools for the classroom and tools that can be used for extracurricular purposes. We have done this because we believe in campus/community collaboration, and have noted an increasing interest amongst students in merging what they do inside and outside of the classroom.

Increase Campus Engagement in Global Issues- Participatory Media

Since 9/11, students around the world have used technology to further deliberative democracy. Most universities now have videoconference labs and student groups have already begun to utilize them to host conversations. For example, Americans for Informed Democracy2 can host a forum on America’s foreign policy towards Africa with participants in Indiana, California, Mali and Ghana. Also, online forums like Global Voices Online have been created to create a community of ‘bridge bloggers’, those who are talking about their country to a global audience. This helps balance global media coverage, which has long ignored nuanced issues in much of the developing world. Engaging in these conversations, both inside and outside of the classroom, will create a more informed global citizenry.

Increase Collaboration on Practitioner Projects- Open Source Production Model

The open source movement uses internet based tools to provide useful, free knowledge and tools through the collaboration of many people giving their time and expertise. We should recognize in this movement a powerful new form of service learning. The most prominent open source tool is Wikipedia, the biggest and most accessed encyclopedia in the world. Many fields use open source technology to improve practical, public knowledge. There is a wiki for best practices in international development, a free wiki tourism guide, as open source media, commercial and health products.

If research institutions should ‘develop knowledge for the improvement of communities and society’3 educators should make the classroom a place to begin that contribution by encouraging student contribution to open source tools.

Increase Student Preparation for Tackling Global Challenges- Classroom/(Global) Community Collaboration

Students feel a strong desire to contribute to solving international problems. However, neither the Paul Farmeresque life of the Peace Corps nor simply giving $20 to UNICEF appeals to them. Smart, skill oriented students need outlets to collaborate with their counterparts in the developing world to solve these problems. Universities, who can equip students with the practical skills to take on these challenges, are beginning to create programs that allow students to plug into solving global issues.

Programs that address these needs are emerging in vivid variety. Global Youth Partnership for Africa’s4 Student Global Ambassador program brings talented American students with specific interests to Uganda for a two-week program to engage and learn from talented young Ugandan social entrepreneurs. Then, the Americans return home and through technology continue to collaborate on various projects. Also, Northwestern University is developing a hybrid program fusing classroom knowledge, service learning and international volunteering. This program provides practitioner training, community awareness and fundraising skills for one semester and then provides placement in a skill-specific project in the developing world for a second semester.

Each of these three areas has exciting opportunities for growth, and surely each category could be a paper in itself. The goal of this overview is to provide a bird’s eye view of the potential of these new tools, and introduce service learning professionals, educators and students to new communication tools that will alter the way we contribute to public knowledge, engage in service learning and enhance deliberative democracy.

1 The Empowerment Age: Why the Internet Matters. Situation Analysis by EchoDitto, Inc. A 2004 Year End Report back

2 back

3 Campus Compact. Wingspread Declaration on the Civic Responsibilities of Research Universities back

4 Full Disclosure: Josh Goldstein is Associate Director and Jeremy Goldberg is Executive Director of GYPA. back

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