Connecting Multimodalities and Civic Engagement

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I have been reflecting upon and writing about the ways that using photography (i.e., photovoice) and digital storytelling help open up spaces for students to develop a sense of agency and to be more civically engaged. So I was delighted to see that guest blogger Tanya Rodrigue contributed a piece on on multimodal assignments (See 3 Step for Creating a Multimodal Assignment). I appreciate the kinds of questions that she prompts instructors to ask in order to examine the different affordances of a given genre or digital tool. For example, “What is the purpose and what options are available to achieve [the writer’s] purpose? What features distinguish this tool or platform from others? What are the constraints and how might they impact pedagogical and conceptual affordances?” These are important questions that challenge us as teachers to consider the extent to which different tools foster democratic engagement, voice, and agency apart from the pedagogical context that encourages students to act on their convictions.


Here I am thinking about providing contexts for sharing power; creating spaces for critical conversations about inequality, racial struggle, and injustice; examining the sociopolitical contexts that stand in the way of change; or encouraging the intergenerational conversations that connect students to the communities we encourage them to be a part of. The work before us as educators entails examining the tensions, contradictions, and promises of educating youth for participation and leadership amid contexts that often demand compliance more than change.


My concerns about the contexts of teaching students to be more involved in their communities led me and my co-author, April Lidinsky, to include a number of readings in the 4th edition of our book, From Inquiry to Academic Writing. These are readings that challenge students to reflect upon the kinds of tools we often take for granted in discussions about the conditions that foster change. Dana Radcliffe explains in “Dashed Hopes: Why Aren’t Social Media Delivering Democracy?” that media platforms alone cannot create a movement, Instead, it’s useful to think about the importance of defining what we mean by deliberative democracy. I would add that it is important to center our attention on developing relationships that humanize individuals in our efforts to make a difference in the world. We have included additional readings that also invite students to think about different media platforms and the ways they work to achieve a given writer’s goals (e.g., Dan Kennedy’s “Political Blogs,” John Dickerson’s “Don’t Fear Twitter” and Steve Grove’s “Youtube”).


I wonder what other teachers of writing are doing to create the kinds of contexts that will enable students to develop a sense of voice and agency, while also looking critically at the tools we encourage them to use as ways to create meaningful change. What kind of citizens are we trying to shape? What kinds of democratic values? What political and ideological interests are embedded in or attached to varied conceptions of citizenship? 

About the Author
Stuart Greene received his Ph.D. in English from Carnegie Mellon in Rhetoric. He is associate professor of English with a joint appointment in Africana Studies at Notre Dame. His research has examined the intersections of race, poverty, and achievement in public schools. This work has led to the publication of his co-edited volume, Making Race Visible: Literacy Research for Racial Understanding (Teachers College Press, 2003), for which he won the National Council of Teachers of English Richard A. Meade Award in 2005. He has published a monographic, Race, Community, and Urban Schools: Partnering with African American Families (Teachers College Press, 2013), edited Literacy as a Civil Right (Peter Lang, 2008) and co-edited with Cathy Compton-Lilly, Bedtime Stories and Book Reports: Connecting Parent Involvement and Family Literacy (Teachers College Press, 2011). His current research focuses on literacy, youth empowerment and civic engagement in the context of university/community partnerships. This work appears in his edited collection Youth Voices, Public Spaces, and Civic Engagement. (Routledge Press, 2016), Language Arts, Urban Education, and The Urban Review.