12573 CE: Civic Geographies: Civic Engagement Across Space, Time, and Scale
Organizers: Ty Hollett, Jeremiah Holden
This presentation advances theoretical and pedagogical interpretations of connected learning which advocate robust participation in peer-supported and interest-driven learning oriented toward academic and political opportunity or civic engagement. Specifically, this presentation interrogates the movement of youth civic engagement across space, time, and scale within (and beyond) two digital media-based learning settings: 1) Nashville: Building Blocks (NBB), a youth-driven program at the Nashville: Public Library which challenged teen participants to engage with and re-imagine their city through the video game Minecraft; and 2) the Michigan Student Caucus (MSC), a partnership between the University of Michigan and the Michigan House of Representatives Special Commission on Civic Engagement that facilitates students’ debate, generation, and advocacy of creative public policy. Our presentation of NBB and MSC addresses outstanding questions about digital media and youth civic engagement, specifically: “What programs and projects serve as exemplars that can push our thinking?”
In describing both programs, this presentation re-imagines digitally mediated forms of youth civic engagement, calling for connected learning approaches to foster civic engagement opportunities that move across space, time, and scale. Doing so, we assert, (re)orients how connected learning can be conceived and designed for more equitable participation and learning. We refer to civic engagement that extends across space, time, and scale as civic geographies. Here, we specifically highlight how NBB – like MSC – buoys participants’ civic geographies.
In NBB, interest-driven, production-centered activity facilitated civic engagement opportunities that moved across multiple spaces, temporalities, and scales. In terms of space, varied forms of civic engagement occurred in the digital space of Minecraft, in the physical space of the room, as well as in the city of Nashville. Regarding time, the program continually responded to emerging urban planning initiatives, like re-imagining neighborhood communities, while also enabling youth to work at their own pace (from hours to months). One participant, who often worked on the server from home as well as from the library, noted that this approach was different than school, where things like worksheets had to be done within specific temporal parameters. Finally, concerning scale, civic geographies lets us think about the nuances of being an engaged citizen: some participants only collaborated virtually with others in-game, others collaborated physically in the room that they played in, all the while thinking, talking, and reflecting on spatial issues in their home community.
Given our emphasis on civic geographies – and our broader analysis of both NBB and MSC – we urge connected learning researchers and practitioners to further foster youth civic opportunity by questioning the agential cuts made during civic enactments. That is, in what ways do teachers, students, and mentors care for “this place” rather than “that place”? And, in doing so, how might any social actor, though particularly youth, become more responsible for “here” rather than “there”? As a lens through which to approach political opportunity, civic geographies lets us question the limits to responsibility and how are they are worked through in different spatiotemporal arrangements.