I first approached the book Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom by Rebecca MacKinnon, as a librarian who teaches an information competency course to community college students. I’ve always discussed our First Amendment rights as U.S. citizens to my students and this looked like a title that would help broaden my set of free speech examples. That was the idea when I chose this book. Once I completed Module 4: Participatory Service, however, I had to return to the book with a different mission: how could I use what I learned from the book and make it into a participatory model assignment for my students?
I envisioned students creating, curating and collaborating with each other on projects—adding their voice to the discussion instead of being passive absorbers of information. What’s so new about that, you say? Read on!
In the chapter, “Building a Netizen-Centric Internet”, MacKinnon addresses how “netizens” can assist in making sure that the Internet evolves in a citizen-centric manner. “Netizens” are people who contribute to the digital commons and who act as its stewards, architects, and defenders—engaging in a form of citizenship of the Internet (MacKinnon, 2012, p. 26). The author describes a global movement that both defends and expands Internet freedom which is driven by groups often working to address specific local and regional issues. The movement isn’t powerful enough to keep abuses by governments or corporations at bay, but McKinnon describes the Arab Spring as one example that motivated more people to become actively engaged in supporting freedom of the Internet. She cautions this global movement should not become a UN type organization monitoring cross border digital power nor an Anonymous style digital activist group. A more realistic approach, she says, would be to strengthen already established netizen-driven institutions while at the same time develop more effective ways to keep in check all forms of digital power—whether it is exercised by governments or corporations (MacKinnon, 2012, p. 223).
One such example of a netizen-driven group is Global Voices, of which MacKinnon is a co-founder. Made up of mostly volunteer netizen journalists reporting on local issues from 167 countries, Global Voices’ manifesto in part states, “Thanks to new tools, speech need no longer be controlled by those who own the means of publishing and distribution, or by governments that would restrict thought and communication. Now, anyone can wield the power of the press. Everyone can tell their stories to the world” (“Global Voices Manifesto,” 2016).
How can I bring my students into this Internet freedom movement? I may create an assignment around choosing a local social justice issue and have them investigate it, blog about it or use a number of other digital tools to engage in digital activism similar to the information hub Nawaat.org which covered the Arab Spring of 2011(MacKinnon 22). By following the model of participatory media and utilizing peer to peer teaching, students can become empowered from contributing meaningful content within the context of real world issues, according to Howard Jenkins in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture. The opportunity to engage students in new media literacies taught via the participatory model is something I’ve wanted to experiment with but I never had a name for it until now.
Last year, I came across an Educause article titled, Libraries as Enablers of Pedagogical and Curricular Change that discussed opportunities where academic libraries can initiate and support curricular change by working with faculty on creating assignments that can be non-textual. At North Carolina State University, librarians assisted in the creation of a multimodal assignment in the first year writing program – incorporating formats or modes beyond text to convey an argument or an idea. Author J. Lippincott (2014) stated that the NCSU Library provided not only infrastructure for students to create these projects, but also the staff expertise. Librarians consulted with instructors on the structure of the assignment and assisted students with story boarding, recording and editing their projects.
Reading MacKinnon’s book and our course Module 4 combined with the examples I had read about at other academic institutions, has helped to further my understanding of the participatory model in the context of information / media literacy in the community college setting. The graphic above from educatorinnovator.org visually represents how I want my students to engage with the world in a participatory manner. Using MacKinnon’s model of a Netizen Commons, I feel like I’m well on my way to introducing meaningful change in my classes as well as introducing these concepts to our faculty at large.
Global Voices manifesto. Retrieved from https://globalvoices.org/about/gv-manifesto/
Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Weigel, M., Clinton, K., & Robison, A.J. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Retrieved from https://mitpress.mit.edu/sites/default/files/titles/free_download/9780262513623_Confronting_the_Challenges.pdf
Lippincott, J., Vedantham, A., & Duckett, K. (2014, October 27). Libraries as enablers of pedagogical and curricular change. Educause Review, Retrieved from http://er.educause.edu/articles/2014/10/libraries-as-enablers-of-pedagogical-and-curricular-change
MacKinnon, R. (2012). Consent of the networked: The worldwide struggle for Internet freedom. New York, NY: Basic Books.