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Networking young citizens

Research is exploring the ways in which the social web might support engagement in learning and the civic participation of young people.

A recently completed pilot research project investigates the ways in which interactive and collaborative online technologies such as social networking sites, blogs, wikis and content sharing sites – known as Web 2.0 – are integrated into teaching and learning to develop civic socialisation in students.

In the report, Networking Young Citizens: Learning to be citizens in and with the social web, ACER Senior Research Fellow, Suzanne Mellor and Monash University Professor of Education, Terri Seddon observe that education has potential for inducting students into citizenship dispositions and civic behaviours, and also the norms and practices, rights and responsibilities of democratic citizenship.

As Mellor and Seddon write, ‘One underlying assumption of this pilot project, and much of the research associated with the broader topic of the links between social networking and engagement of young people in civic action, is the belief that if they are already predisposed to using social media for connecting with their own world, then they will be similarly prepared to engage, via social media, in a wider world, possibly in an active civic manner.’

In late 2011, Mellor and Seddon interviewed teachers and students from two Year 9 classes and one Year 8 class in three Melbourne schools. The schools encompassed a range of school types: government and private schools, relatively recently and long-established schools, single-sex and co-educational, with student cohorts from different socioeconomic backgrounds and in different locations within Melbourne.

Funded by Monash University, the research examined general school administrative practices that could be construed as being supportive of the development of a school community and citizenship behaviours, and also teachers’ engagement with their students in terms of explicit Civics and Citizenship curriculum and activities. The research also examined students’ experience of Web 2.0, and sought their views and understandings of the potential of these processes for broader civic engagement.

The research identified three key drivers supporting student learning about engagement:

  • The contribution of Web 2.0 technologies and social media in student learning and engagement
  • The role of a school’s culture in student learning and engagement, and
  • The role an explicit Civics and Citizenship course plays in student learning and engagement.

According to Mellor and Seddon, these drivers contribute to students’ engagement in school and in their learning how to act as engaged citizens in their present circumstances, and may be potentially significant to the likelihood of them acting similarly in their adult lives.

‘When creatively and extensively utilised, Web 2.0 and social networking are powerful factors in developing student independence and having a positive view of the world, their place in it and their capacity to engage with it,’ Mellor and Seddon note.  

The research revealed that where Web 2.0 approaches were employed in a school – for teaching, learning and presentation of student work, for students and other stakeholders to connect to the whole school community, through the community partnership links – the benefits of such engagement were increased participation in that community and an increased sense of belonging.

The study found that where there was a high level of integration in school policy between school culture, Web 2.0 technologies, and explicit Civics and Citizenship education, there was little dissonance between the interview responses from students and staff, and the students were more engaged on all fronts.

Further, where a school provided opportunities to make explicit connections between civic knowledge and the potential of social media use, there was less complaint from students about school governance processes, and a greater understanding of students’ capacity to actively engage and ‘make a difference’ in the school community, and on their own terms.

...schools would do well to consider the benefits to all stakeholders of more intensely implementing Web 2.0 and Civics and Citizenship education approaches...

Mellor and Seddon suggest that, when combined with Civics and Citizenship curricula, Web 2.0 technologies open up significant education options for lifelong learning, by supporting self-motivated and self-monitoring learners across the full breadth of the school population. They conclude that schools would do well to consider the benefits to all stakeholders of more intensely implementing Web 2.0 and Civics and Citizenship education approaches, both to whole-school cultures and to classroom pedagogies, across the full curriculum.

‘This study suggests the connectedness between pre-existing and new applications in students of explicit and deep knowledge of engagement and action will predictably result in increased engagement of young people in a range of participations during their school lives, and confer personal, pedagogic and social identity benefits to many parties, both during their school years and also subsequently as adults,’ Mellor and Seddon conclude. ■

Read the full report:
Networking Young Citizens: Learning to be citizens in and with the social web, by Suzanne Mellor and Prof Terri Seddon, is available at < research.acer.edu.au/civics/21/ >

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