Date of Award

Spring 5-11-2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Lynee Gaillet

Second Advisor

Dr. Ashley Holmes

Third Advisor

Dr. Elizabeth Lopez

Abstract

This study looks at the practice of teaching civic engagement through digital and Web 2.0 tools and examines the impact on agency and self-efficacy of first-year writing students. The primary focus is studying student attitudes toward use of these tools, civic engagement in general, and the perceived value of engaging civically through use of these tools with the hopes of better understanding the value of this work and the impact it will have on future civic, community, and political engagement. Based on the findings of a triad of studies published in 2012 – a CIRCLE study (“That’s Not Democracy”), Giovanna Mascheroni’s study of Italian youth and political uses of the web, and a study conducted by DoSomething.org – the researcher designed a first-year composition course that asked students to choose a cause or issue for the duration of the semester and take on roles of informer, reformer, advocate, and activist on three fronts: Twitter (microblogging), Wordpress (blogging), and YouTube (digital advocacy videos). A feminist methodology was used for this study, understanding that the participatory nature of the research was an essential part of the ethos of the researcher. Qualitative data was collected through analysis of student work, reflection essays, and semi-structured focus group conversations. Through the focus group discussions, the student participants and the researcher worked collaboratively to create knowledge. The findings of this study echoed those of the three studies mentioned above. In addition to showing that instruction and experience with digital civic engagement are linked to an increased likelihood to engage in the future, the study showed that there are numerous benefits to teaching new media, civic, and academic literacies through an activist lens in writing studies. Students acquire a host of academic and professional skills that will help them succeed in the classroom and their future careers. Beyond acquisition of research and 21st century writing skills, teaching digital activism empowers students, increases agency, and helps them grasp the value of disrupting existing, outdated, or oppressive power dynamics in effective ways. Finally, it helps develop lifelong learners who are self-motivated.

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