Am Teaching Avatar #AmTeaching: Civic, Deliberative, and New Media Pedagogy

Jeffrey Grabill (2007) referred to our students, those who write with “advanced information communication technologies (ICTs),” as the “civic rhetors of the 21st century” (p. 3). Like Giovanna Mascheroni (2010), Grabill discussed the notion of civic culture. In both cases, the writers seem to be talking about civic and community literacy, awareness of and connectedness to an individual’s civic and community life.

Many of us teach our students about the great classical rhetors (Aristotle, Cicero, Hortensia) and some of us have an awareness of Habermas and Hauser’s conversations on public sphere. What we need to link for our students is this notion of the new public sphere (online) and how it fits in with activism and activist rhetoric in real life (IRL).

For those of us teachers of writing and rhetoric who count increased digital literacy and/or civic literacy among our mission, teaching and learning to value alternative modes of civic engagement should rank high among our academic and curricular objectives. As part of employing this civic and new media pedagogy as a means of increasing digital civic engagement or activism, we must also instruct our students on how to consume digital materials.

Those in the field who currently advocate for a pedagogy that includes multimodality (Arola & Wysocki, 2012; Ball, 2004; Grabill, 2007; Hawisher & Selfe 2012; Hocks, 2003; Shipka, 2011; Wysocki, Johnson-Eilola, Selfe, & Sirc, 2004) consider the necessity of teaching the rhetorics of this new, digital literacy. Assignments, instructional units, and entire undergraduate and graduate level courses are being delivered on visual rhetoric, digital rhetoric, and sonic rhetoric. Competency in these skills is necessary in cultivating not only digital citizenship, but also effective creative and critical thinking skills. These skills must be sharp in order for our students to engage smartly in the online world (lest they become sheeples—followers unable to think for themselves—consuming empty messaging without recognizing it as such).

Mascheroni (2010) noted that young people often have widely varying definitions of what constitutes citizenship, and these definitions impact their efficacy and sense of agency when assigning value to their own efforts toward and ideas about engagement (pp. 214-5). This is why it’s of use to teach them to engage where they want, where they are comfortable, entry-level engagement, if you will, to help build self-efficacy and civic, as well as new media, literacy.

I have, in each subsection of this webtext, advocated for a broader understanding of the kinds of digital or digitally-enhanced activism currently underway. By the time this publication is made available to readers, there will already be new ways for users to engage digitally. I have presented several opportunities for educators to incorporate these types of digital engagement activities into their own classes as part of digital and visual rhetoric lessons, so that our students can be effective consumers and producers of digital information. And I also have advocated for a curriculum of civic rhetoric, similar to the kind Jeffrey Grabill (2007) talked about in Writing Community Change: Designing Technologies for Citizen Action.

While it is useful to provide a framework for any genre of writing, writing for social change is much broader today than it ever has been before. I now put forth a call to action, inviting teachers of writing and rhetoric to begin teaching this lens, through which our students can see how information is being mediated to them. Remember that we don’t want to produce graduating classes of automatons that could rival citizens of a dystopian novel. We want to produce an educated, civically-conscious class of citizens who consistently challenge the status quo, who value civil liberties, and who rise up against infringements on such liberties. We want to provide them with the tools—both technological and communicative—to help make this possible in the 21st century and beyond. This means we have to expand our notions of civic engagement and public or community writing beyond simply teaching them to write the letter to the editor.

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