Designing and Evaluating Technologies for Civic Learning
This general exam proposal is designed to prepare me for my larger PhD goal: to design future civic technologies optimized for the development of effective citizens using definitions and measurements of civic and political learning in a way that captures the complexity and needs of contemporary, digitally-mediated democracy.
Last January, I attended a Civics Research Workshop at Google in New York. The leaders of the field of civic technology in attendance, from industry representatives, practitioners, scholars, and funders, all agreed we severely lack ways of measuring impact or even defining it. And yet, there is a rush into this field attracting vast amounts of funding and media attention. With lots of technology being built, claiming to extend citizen voice and efficacy, this is the moment to be working on measures for evaluating and improving civic technology design.
First, there is a need to define this space more clearly by analyzing the design of civic technologies, in terms of their embodiment of certain goals, values, and definitions of democracy and civic participation; how they conceive of good or effective citizenship and of the development of users into those kinds of citizens; and the ways these platforms and their designers measure success. Second, focusing on the potential of technologies to empower citizens to grow into more effective civic actors, it’s important to understand the way Western civilizations have looked at the development of citizens in offline and now digitally-mediated contexts, and how we might assess new forms of civic learning. Thus, my general exam areas cover:
- Primary Area: Designing Technologies for Civic Engagement, surveying the range of platforms, technologies, and uses of those tools to promote civic activities.
- Contextual Area: History and Philosophy of Civic Education, surveying the most prominent political and educational philosophers and trends in civic education since the birth of modern democracy.
- Technical Area: Statistical and Psychometric Validation of Measures of Civic and Political Learning, covering recent approaches to valid assessments of learning in digital contexts.
- Ethan Zuckerman, PhD Advisor at MIT Media Lab
- Peter Levine, Associate Dean for Research and Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs in Tufts University’s Jonathan Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service
- Andrew Ho, Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education
Action Path is location-based survey platform for Android smartphones that crowdsources feedback from citizens in a way that fosters civic learning through reflective political practice. Existing platforms for civic engagement, whether online or offline, are inconvenient and disconnected from the source of issues they are meant to address. They require that citizens leave the places they normally inhabit physically or virtually and commit to a separate space and set of processes. Action Path is designed to answer the challenge: How do you address barriers to effective engagement in community projects, and ensure all citizens can have their voice heard on how to improve their local communities? It does so by converting individual actions into collective action and by providing context and a sense of efficacy, which may help citizens become more effective through regular practice and feedback.
Related Talks and Publications
- Graeff, E. 2014. ‘Crowdsourcing as Reflective Political Practice: Building a Location-based Tool for Civic Learning and Engagement.’ Presented at Internet, Politics, and Policy 2014: Crowdsourcing for Politics and Policy, Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford, UK, Sep 26.
- Graeff, E. 2014. ‘Action Path: a location-based tool for civic reflection and engagement.’ S.M. Thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- Graeff, E. 2014. ‘Action Path: A Location-Based Tool for Civic Reflection and Engagement.’ To be presented at Place, (Dis)Place and Citizenship, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, Mar 22.
Research Assistant at the MIT Center for Civic Media in partnership with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, studying how a major media controversy changes over time and through the involvement of different actors in its media ecosystem, December 2009 – March 2012.
Controversy Mapper at civic.mit.edu
Details of Work
- Lead authored a case study of Trayvon Martin controversy from spring 2012
- Advanced controversy mapper network research methodology using HITS algorithm to score the authority of media sources
- Normalized and visualized multiple, disparate sources of media content along a time series to chart ebb and flow of story
- Presented findings in multiple venues
- Prepared slides for presentation of findings by PI on multiple occasions
Research Assistant on a MacArthur Foundation-funded project studying the trajectories of civically-engaged youth and their use of new digital media, December 2009 – March 2012.
Good Participation at ypp.dmlcentral.net
Details of Work
- Co-developed research framework
- Developed and co-led an interactive presentation to solicit feedback on our research framework at the Civic Learning, Civic Practices Conference on July 3, 2010
- Co-developed pre-interview survey and interview protocol
- Implemented the survey on SurveyMonkey
- Generated initial list of subject recruitment sites around Boston
- Coordinated recruitment process, establishing contacts at local organizations, distributing online pre-interview surveys, and scheduling interviews with youth
- Presented research progress report at YPP network meeting in New York City on April 21, 2011
- Co-developed coding scheme for interview transcripts
- Participated in cross-network coding meeting in Los Angeles on June 15-16, 2011
- Helped prepare presentation proposal for 2012 Digital Media and Learning Conference
Related Presentations and Publications
- Graeff, E & James, C. 2012. Community Service, Social Entrepreneurship, and Digital Media: Stories from Youth’s Civic Lives. Presentation at the Digital Media and Learning Conference, San Francisco, CA, Mar 1-3.
- Graeff, E & James, C. 2010. Solving the Problem of Studying New Forms of Participation On- and Offline. Presented at the Civic Studies, Civic Practices Conference, Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, Tufts University, Medford, MA, Jul 3.
Research Assistant on a MacArthur Foundation-funded project studying the ethical character of tween’s activities in the new digital media, December 2009 – March 2012.
The GoodPlay Project at Project Zero
Details of Work
- Managed research study approval with local public school district administration
- Administered pre-interview surveys to tweens in three different public school districts, two online and one on paper
- Developed and implemented SurveyMonkey filter for selecting survey participants for interviews based on reported internet and cell phone use, balanced sample for gender and race/ethnicity
- Coordinated interviews with 43 tweens at their schools, two per participant
- Personally conducted interviews with 16 tweens, or 32 total interviews
- Coded half the interviews for instances relevant to the online ethical faultlines of “participation”, “credibility”, and “authorship/ownership”
- Wrote four coding memos dealing with aspects of cyberbullying
- Developed original research paper on cyberbullying, using ethical dilemmas posed in the interviews
Related Publications and Presentations
- Graeff, E. 2014. ‘Tweens, Cyberbullying, and Moral Reasoning: Separating the Upstanders from the Bystanders.’ In Robinson, L, Cotten, SR, & Schulz, J, eds., Doing and Being Digital: Mediated Childhoods, Volume 8: Emerald Studies in Media and Communication Communication and Information Technologies Annual. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Ltd.
- Graeff, E. 2011. Tween’s Conceptions of Privacy Online: Implications for Educators, based on research by Davis, K & James, C. Presented at Facing History and Ourselves, Brookline, MA, Aug 1.
- Davis, K & Graeff, E. 2011. Cultivating Ethical Thinking among Digital Youth: Challenges and Opportunities. Workshop presented at the CCSR Spring Institute: Preparing Engaged Citizens, Boston University, Boston, MA, Apr 28.