Teaching at the digital democracy course up at Tufts this Wednesday was an exhilarating experience. Thanks again to Professors Josh Goldstein and Patrick Meier. The latter has a new post about our presentation.
I was particularly interested to see the students’ preexisting knowledge of Burma and their capacity for understanding the technical implications of existing under such repressive circumstances. Here is a generation that grew up not knowing a world without the internet and a class diverse in majors (from psychology to IR). My initial impression was that they would have a strong connection to new technologies and not necessarily one to this far-off country. I was surprised that they hadn’t taken to the technologies that had been incorporated into the class (see: Twitter & Wiki) as readily as I’d assumed. Less than surprising was that students didn’t really have a sense of Burma. But as American college students, I was overwhelmed that they were attending a 2.5 hour lecture at night.
Here’s where it got interesting – in discussing Burma, it wasn’t until mentioning the Support the Monks‘ protest in Burma Facebook group that the group really let on that they knew anything about the situation. They all started nodding approvingly. Even more fascinating was the brainstorming session they had:
To me, this really showed the technical savvy of this generation. I’ve made a lot of presentations on the power of new technology in situations overseas. Generally it involves explaining the opportunities in a lot of detail. But if people don’t have a relationship with Facebook or any other social networking site, then they don’t have an easy time understanding what I’m really proposing. Here, the students jumped on concepts pretty quickly (or were looking at the D2 site). It was an impressive brainstorm and could have gone on for much longer. We tried to remind them of the limitations to some of their ideas and explain more details from the field to get them thinking about technical and situational setbacks:
All in all, it was extremely beneficial to me in my continuing to explore the technical capacity of youth interested and/or involved in democratization projects in different contexts. My wheels are turning on ways to incorporate college age students into D2’s digital pen pal program and I may have good news on getting them into cultural landscape soon as well. Stay tuned! [Does this phrase even work on the internet?]