How Is That Useful Exactly? Civic Media and the Usability of Knowledge in Liberal Arts Education


For the love of God, this is fundamentally useless academic crap that I really hoped I would not have to take at this stage in my education. I am going to be a college graduate in TWELVE MONTHS—with a shit-ton of student loans, as you all know, I’m sure—and what am I supposed to do? Theorize about Foucault with my potential employers? I mean, really, I could have taken a sound design course, or a film-editing course: I could have honed a very real, very useful technical skill, but instead I was writing papers about Laura Mulvey and bell hooks. Don’t get me wrong—this is VERY interesting material, but I’d rather go to my local library and study this crap on my own, or maybe take this class when I’m independently wealthy. It feels like a waste of time and money.

—Student evaluation for a course in media theory, Emerson College, fall 2015

This comment from a rising senior in a media theory course at Emerson College captures a tension that is present across much of higher education, in the definition of useful knowledge. As the student points out, instead of honing a “very real, very useful technical skill,” he was forced to learn things better suited for a wealthy patron of a public library. The library, as a place of unapplied “book learning” is differentiated from the classroom, which is characterized as a workshop for developing applied and useful skills. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake is set apart from instrumental knowledge, and the idea of usefulness is specifically aligned with the cultivation of career skills.

This sentiment is nothing new. In fact, universities have been struggling with the notion of usefulness for nearly two centuries. When Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819, he sought to create an alternative to the model of classical education promoted by established colleges such as Harvard by filling more than half the curriculum with the sciences and mathematics. This was not because he thought students would become scientists but because he desired for them to cultivate a useful way of thinking that promoted healthy “habits of mind.”1 For Jefferson, liberal learning was not simply about studying the classics of philosophy and literature but about building the foundations for inquiry.

This was a paradigm shift. Jefferson established that learning, not the content learned, was the goal of education. In 1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson would reinforce this way of thinking in his address to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard. “Colleges,” he said, “have their indispensible office—to teach elements. But they can only serve us, when they aim not to drill, but to create; when they gather from far every ray of various genius to their hospitable halls, and, by the concentrated fires, set the hearts of their youth on flame.” For Emerson, knowledge and action were coupled. Knowledge was only useful insofar as it inspired the learner to take action in the world. “Forget this,” he concluded, “and our American colleges will recede in their public importance, whilst they grow richer every year.”2

But this idea of usefulness still did not address the fundamental elitism and exclusiveness of university education. These institutions, only open to wealthy white men, didn’t teach skills to those who needed to work for a living. Usefulness for Emerson was about personal freedom of the privileged learner to be and create in the world, but it did little to address the structural biases that kept women and non-whites from the university’s hallowed halls. Some emerging black voices such as Booker T. Washington’s tried to steer universities towards skill-based education as the only and best way to open up to African Americans.

This approach was famously challenged by W.E.B. DuBois. As the first black graduate of Harvard College, DuBois reframed Emerson’s notion of usefulness in the context of racism and exclusion. “The aim of the higher training of the college,” DuBois argued, “is the development of power, the training of a self whose balanced assertion will mean as much as possible for the great ends of civilization. The aim of technical training on the other hand is to enable the student to master the present methods of earning a living in some particular way.”3 DuBois presents two very different definitions of usefulness. One stabilizes knowledge for students to accommodate the world; the other mobilizes knowledge for students to transform the world. DuBois warned that learners should never “mistake the means of living for the object of life.”4

In the present moment, institutions continue to struggle with how to provide “useful knowledge” to a sufficiently wide range of students. Elitism and exclusivity is still largely in tact in university education. And any progress in opening up the university to more diverse groups has been accompanied by growing student debt that can have lifelong implications. Add to that the context of a digital culture, where information is nearly universal and accessible, and the questions associated with useful knowledge in higher education takes on a renewed urgency.

How is useful knowledge framed within the confines of the contemporary university? How has digital culture generally motivated colleges and universities to shift the way knowledge gets applied and to whom it is applied? And how has the global mobility of information, goods, and people transformed how colleges and universities understand their responsibility to educate?

To these questions, colleges and universities tend to respond in two somewhat contradictory ways: reinforcing the usefulness of knowledge by offering more directly transferable job skills and sequestering the learner from the world by ignoring application all together. Curricular offerings are too often neatly divided into applied skills on the one hand and reflective knowledge on the other. Both of these approaches we deem insufficient responses to education within a digital culture that has so significantly altered the everyday experience of knowing.

We argue that there needs to be a refocusing of the liberal arts away from usefulness and towards what we call usability. Usability suggests knowledge characterized by its potentiality, in addition to its instrumentality. It is a term most often associated with software, where it refers to the means of assessing the process of user-centered design. User-centered design is a way of designing software, in dialogue with end-users, to assure that the result is clear, efficient, and meaningful. For the purpose of the present argument, the usability of knowledge refers to the process of creating and sharing knowledge that takes the learner, and the learner’s place in the world, into consideration. Usability suggests that knowledge is open-ended, capable of accommodating a range of user experiences, and appropriately cultivated within the social experience of learning.

Gordon-Mihailidis-Figure-1-Distinction between usefulness and usability of knowledge

Figure 1. Distinction between usefulness and usability of knowledge

In this paper, we argue that the usability of knowledge is the most compelling metric through which to assess the value of liberal learning in the modern university. The distinction between usability and usefulness is one of framing, rather than content. The direct application of knowledge is still emphasized, just not predominantly tied to specific career goals; knowledge may have instrumental value, but it is presented in an expressive context; the efficient retention of facts is important, but understanding how facts get interpreted and put into practice is more important; and the individual learner matters, but, as John Dewey has argued, the process of learning is always social, and the value of knowledge is its being put into practice in the social world.

Usability, regardless of discipline, is a productive way of applying the value of liberal learning. It suggests that the learner, through practice, is comfortable with the application of knowledge in a range of contexts. Usability, we argue, is the pedagogical framing of what Danielle Allen and Jennifer Light understand as the pathway from voice to influence.5 They, along with the contributors to their collected volume by the same name, focus on the civic relationships that cultivate citizenship. In order to move beyond the legal connotations of citizenship, they use the term “civic agency.” They are interested in the informal and often participatory mechanisms in which young people pursue political efficacy, regardless of legal status. While they don’t explicitly refer to higher education, their framework productively resists the notion of “good citizenship” that has long been at the core of liberal learning. We see usability as the way to discuss this path from voice to influence within higher education. It expands the focus from a range of educational outcomes, such as knowledge of great books and employability, to educational practice. The purpose of usability is to empower young people to apply knowledge and skills to the social, cultural, and political problems their communities face.

In order to make this more concrete, we provide examples from our own teaching and research at Emerson College and suggest that the lessons are reproducible and transferable. For the last several years, we have been working in a field of study and practice called “civic media.” In our 2016 book by the same name, we define civic media as “the technologies, designs, and practices that produce and reproduce the sense of being in the world with others toward common good.”6 On one hand, civic media implies all the deliberate uses of digital tools and practices that foster social change or civic cohesion. And on the other hand, it represents the range of mediated practices through which knowledge is usable for social action.

Civic media provides a rich example space through which to present and practice liberal learning. It challenges the very notion of usefulness by emphasizing the expressive, interpretive, and social applications of knowledge. It is a sandbox for the usability that Jefferson, Emerson, and DuBois imagined but in a way that would not have been possible in their time. Civic media, understood thusly, can introduce a kind of flexibility and access to information that can pave a path from knowledge and voice to influence.

Civic Media

The student quoted at the start of this paper is speaking within a culture that is increasingly responsive to his immediate needs, where on-demand content and user feedback define his interactions with people and institutions. He is also speaking within a culture that is catered to and definitive of his identity and sense of belonging,7 and an institution that is increasingly forced to quantify, to fee-paying parents and debt-ridden students, their “return on investment.”8 The institutions that once defined public life—the government, the school, the university, the church—are being shaped by a personalized media layer, where immediacy and instrumental use value are more likely to define purpose.

In its attempt to be responsive to ubiquitous media culture, higher education has generally acted unevenly. This is due partly to the inability of colleges and universities to adequately respond to the fast-paced evolution of technologies in society9 because of the rigidity of educational structure, including credit models and in-classroom focus on text-based learning. But there are a host of examples in more informal settings that demonstrate how knowledge can be more connected to practice and social action. The MacArthur-funded Digital Media and Learning network has provided an important set of research papers and initiatives to this end. For example, Jenkins et al. seek to understand “young people’s deeply felt interests and identities in the service of achieving the kind of civic voice and influence that is characteristic of participatory politics.”10

While they don’t specifically refer to liberal learning in higher education, Jenkins et al. introduce participatory politics as a space for the application of knowledge. They look at how young people are engaging in political and civic discourse through the tools and processes they have available to them in digital culture. The range of technologies, designs, and practices in this context can be called “civic media.” Henry Jenkins, the co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Civic Media, and one of the editors of this special journal issue, defined civic media in 2007 as “any use of any medium which fosters or enhances civic engagement.”11 This is a generative definition that has provided an open canvas for thinking about the range of mediated practices that compose civic life.

We have adopted the term to frame our own research practice.12 And increasingly, we have adopted the values inherent in the term to frame our teaching practices and approaches to curriculum. Civic media depends on usable knowledge. As a practice, it is participatory, active, responsive to context, and social. And as a topic and process of education, it represents the necessary correlation between knowing and acting, between voice and influence, that should be at the core of liberal arts pedagogy.13 Civic media represents usability beyond usefulness. It is media in service to the possibility of action-taking in the world.

Gordon-Mihailidis-Figure-2. Usability Framework. Strategy for producing usable knowledge in the context of civic mediaFigure 2. Usability Framework. Strategy for producing usable knowledge in the context of civic media

Teaching and learning through civic media provides a strategy for usable knowledge production that involves the learner getting information, experiencing it through critique, discussion, and experimentation, and reflecting on it through taking action in the world. This is represented in the usability framework that represents a clear path between knowledge and action (see fig. 2). In the sections that follow, we explore how civic media provides a context for thinking about usable knowledge, as opposed to the increasingly narrow and instrumentalized “useful” knowledge. Importantly, we connect these efforts to critical media literacy movements of the past. We then discuss how we have applied civic media at Emerson College in Boston to expand institutional structures that support the usability of knowledge across the city.

Digital Literacy and the Usability Framework

There has been a robust scholarly debate about how prepared the “born digital” generation is for participation in public life. The term “digital native”14 has been used widely, and perhaps loosely, to support narratives of an empowered generation of young citizens armed with digital fluencies and production skills. But there is increasing concern about how this fluency translates into “reflective practice.” John Dewey cautioned, “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”15 In today’s digital culture, where a proliferation of tools and platforms have allowed college students to engage in more hands-on learning, the role of colleges and universities must be to make the learner more aware of the reflective practice that accompanies the experiences of engaging in the real world.

There is evidence that young people are using a wide variety of digital media to participate in public discourse, from making memes and curating digital content to “liking” political speech. But a recent wave of research has highlighted college students’ lack of preparedness to understand, reflect, and activate the knowledge they receive. They struggle with the abundance of information presented to them through digital media.16 They struggle to differentiate quality and intent of messaging.17 And they are subject to overconfidence in their ability to critically navigate and assess information online.18

Framing content through the lens of civic media provides an opportunity for students to learn with and about the media, such that they are encouraged to transfer knowledge into action. It puts problem-based learning at its core, which Hmelo-Silver defines as “focused, experiential learning organized around the investigation, explanation, and resolution of meaningful problems.”19 It also acknowledges that students are being educated in a context of collapsing media industries, a post-print media culture, and a transforming political discourse. It embraces a range of media and digital literacies that address the learner’s needs. When students are asked to think about a YouTube campaign like the “It Gets Better Project”20 or how youth in New York City fought to change the Stop and Frisk policies through social media activism,21 they understand knowledge in service of social change. Likewise, when they are asked to activate what they know through the tools they have available, they understand how knowledge can be usable. This approach places the learner at the center of the mediated equation and reinforces the flexibility of media as a tool and canvas for expression in contemporary culture.22 Dewey noted that “education is a social process; education is growth; education is not preparation for life but is life itself.”23 In digital culture, liberal learning must engage the learner as a “participant” that is connected to daily life through gathering information, practice, and reflection.

Civic media is responsive to a range of media and digital literacies that have come before it. Influences range from the Frankfurt School,24 to critical theories of political economy and hegemony,25 to more recent work by Neil Postman, Douglas Rushkoff, and contemporaries. All of this work in some way seeks to aid young people in “deconstructing injustices, expressing their own voices, and struggling to create a better society.”26 It resonates with Freire’s conscientização—or “critical consciousness”—in which individuals develop the ability to perceive their social reality “not as a closed world from which there is no exit, but as a limiting situation which they can transform.”27

Civic media are “not just tools for critical thinking, but essential components of the civic process; not just the means for exercising one’s democratic power, but also for finding out where that power lies.”28 This is usable knowledge. It asks the learner to acquire and exercise agency, both individual and social, and to negotiate the boundaries between the two. The result is a learner that realizes the possibilities and limitations of individual actions and recognizes the need to balance competing agendas and manage limited resources. While this can certainly be applied to the cultivation of career skills, the usability framework, where knowledge is actionable, expressive, and grounded in reflective practice, can and should be applied to the complete spectrum of liberal learning.

In the next section, we focus on our experience at the Engagement Lab at Emerson College in Boston.29 In particular, we discuss the creation of the Boston Civic Media consortium, which is a citywide effort to connect faculty and organizational partners across institutions to advance the paradigm of usable knowledge.

Making Usable Institutions

Media education pioneer Len Mastermann saw media education as “an essential step in the long march toward a truly participatory democracy and the democratization of our institutions.”30 And yet, today, students are entering into institutions that remain by and large closed systems. Despite what we are saying about the need for a clear path from knowledge to action, the traditional classroom structure, designed to discipline knowledge, continues to be dominant.31 Transforming liberal learning through the frame of civic media requires not only a change in how and where the learner learns but also in how the university is connected to the world. While students have ample opportunities for internships—for the useful application of knowledge towards the “means of living”—they have many fewer opportunities for the application of knowledge towards what DuBois called “the object of life.” The classroom—set apart from the world in space and time—does not lend itself to this sort of meaning-making. Most classrooms are designed with a specific and quite limited functionality that reinforces the utility of knowledge transfer, not action taking. Colleges and universities, even with all their efforts to adjust curriculum to remain relevant, have been slow to transform the primary interface between teacher and learner—the classroom and classroom-centered education.

One way in which we have attempted to address this problem is through the Boston Civic Media (BCM) consortium.32 Together with our colleague Catherine D’Ignazio, we launched this effort in 2015 with the distinct aim to create partnerships and synergies between higher education and community groups in order to normalize more applied, flexible, and usable models for learning.33 BCM is a forum for university faculty and their partners in community-based organizations, advocacy groups, and government who are interested in new forms of civic agency and how they intersect with the classroom. Faculty come from a range of disciplines, including communications, media studies, visual art, sociology, public health and design. This group of more than forty faculty from fifteen Boston area universities and fifty community and government partners represents a real desire to rethink pedagogical structures at the core of education. Through the lens of civic media, BCM has taken a very important first step in creating a space where the assumptions of liberal learning can be collaboratively challenged by those working for social change inside and outside the academy.

BCM applies a usability framework in a few distinct ways. It focuses on partnered pedagogies where classrooms and communities partner to collectively work on solving big problems on local and global scales. These partnerships are anchored by shared responsibility, the development of a set of guidelines to facilitate mutual expectations, and embedding student learning experience in an applied framework. This goes beyond models of service learning connected to the traditional usefulness frame of liberal learning, where students often engage in isolated and short-term acts of support for a community in need. The partnered pedagogy model is designed to facilitate long-term collaboration and allow for students to work with community partners through co-design methodologies. Learning in this context is designed to move beyond the classroom and beyond knowledge as service. BCM, in its various collaborations, has become a kind of laboratory for experimentation with usable knowledge.

In addition to partnered pedagogy, the consortium works to provide collaborative curricula across academic institutions to facilitate more agile and diverse learning experiences. Faculty are now working to create cross institutional courses and course modules that combine students from different institutions with opportunities to engage in different approaches to liberal learning. A civic engagement course at one institution, for example, is partnering with a design studio course at another institution in an attempt to get students to engage in dialog at the intersection of theory and practice, of knowledge and action. To support these cross-curricular initiatives, BCM has created an online syllabus repository34 and is beginning to enroll students across universities. The conversations in this group, including those focused on the impact of semester cycles on community partnerships and limitations of classroom learning, has inspired much of the thinking behind this article.

These conversations, and the usability framework that resulted, have implications well beyond the media fields. Community partnerships, sharing of syllabi and students, and the consideration of the standards for mutual value in collaborative research are certainly not unique to media and technology. But media and technology have inspired a conversation about the structural integrity of the university, just as they have inspired this conversation in nearly every other content-related industry. As information becomes ubiquitous through increasingly accessible production and sharing technologies, the benefits of information are being reconsidered. The newspaper industry is struggling with the value of news and the value of paper. Higher education, likewise, is struggling with the value of knowledge. BCM is creating a space for the usability of knowledge in a way that individual programs or even individual universities could not. Indeed, the network may be more capable than the institution of forging a path from knowledge to action.

In this sense, the importance of BCM is perhaps more conceptual than practical. The interest in such an effort has largely been motivated by a perceived lack of institutional responsiveness to the needs of learners, both enrolled students and community members, who are struggling to discover how knowledge can support their work in the world. When community-based organizations, government, and non-governmental organizations have a sustained and sustainable relationship with faculty partners, there is much greater likelihood that education is comprised of meaningful practices, not just practicing for meaning later on.


Colleges and universities are at a crossroads. Education is becoming increasingly expensive just as the discourse of universal college access is gaining traction. Students and their parents are demanding a clearly articulated value proposition, and colleges and universities are defaulting to a narrative of instrumental usefulness. This is partly motivated by a digital culture where information, people, goods and services are more mobile and accessible than ever before. More people are asking the question, “if information is so accessible, what’s the value of a four-year college experience?”

There is need to move beyond the traditional answers: “In college, you will be trained for a career in x,” or “In college, you will be exposed to a diversity of ideas and learn how to think.” Each of these responses is positioned in relation to a definition of usefulness that is purely instrumental. Knowledge either is useful or has no interest in being useful. To break from that binary, the notion of usability, taken from the computer sciences, more accurately captures use value in a digital culture. Through the example of civic media, and inspired by Allen and Light’s formulation of voice to influence, we argue that learning takes place through accessing information, experiencing it through dialogue, critique, and experimentation, and then ultimately putting it into practice through reflective action in the world. We describe how this is building off of a range of literacy movements in secondary and higher education. And we demonstrate that this discourse has significant implications for the larger discussions about liberal learning.

Finally, we argue that the usability of knowledge is not something taking place within individual institutions; it is necessarily networked and connective. The example of Boston Civic Media demonstrates one effort to realize this. Colleges and universities, in order to stay relevant in the twenty-first century, need to see themselves as the connective tissue in a local, regional, and global context of learning, experiencing and acting.


Allen, Danielle, and Jennifer S. Light, eds. Introduction to From Voice to Influence. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Barnes, Sandra, Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein, Bernadette Doykos, Nina Martin, and Alison McGuire. Introduction to Academics in Action! A Model for Community-Engaged Research, Teaching, and Service. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016.

Bartlett, Jamie, and Carl Miller. Truth, Lies and the Internet: A Report into Young People’s Digital Fluency. London: Demos, 2011.

Buckingham, David. Media Education: Media, Literacy and Contemporary Culture. New York: Polity, 2003.

Chavez, Jazmin, Sarwat Siddiqui, and Armando Somoza. “‘More Than a Quota:’ Youth-Led Creative Arts and Advocacy About the Stop & Frisk Policy.” In Civic Media Project, edited by Eric Gordon and Paul Mihailidis. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2015.

Christakis, Nicholas. Connected: How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do. New York City: Penguin, 2011.

Deuze, Mark. “Participation, Remediation, Bricolage: Considering Principal Components of a Digital Culture.” The Information Society 22, no. 2 (2006): 63–75.

Dewey, John. Experience and Education. New York: Free Press, 2007.

DuBois, W.E.B. The Education of Black People: Ten Critiques, 1906-1960. Edited by Herbert Aptheker. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1973.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “The American Scholar: An Oration Delivered Before the Phi Beta Kappa Society, at Cambridge, August 31, 1837.” In Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson: An Organic Anthology, edited by Stephen Whicher. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957.

Fieldhouse, Maggie, and David Nicholas. “Digital Literacy as Information Savvy: The Road to Information Literacy.” In Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices, edited by Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel. New York: Peter Lang, 2008.

Fitzsimmons, Lorna. “Liberal Arts in the Modern University.” American Association of University Professors 102, no. 1 (2016).

Freire, Paolo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2000.

Gordon, Eric, and Paul Mihailidis. Introduction to Civic Media: Technology, Design, Practice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016.

Gramsci, Antonio. Prison Notebooks. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.

Honda, Laurie Phillips “‘It Gets Better’ Project.” In Civic Media Project, edited by Eric Gordon and Paul Mihailidis. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2015.

Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002.

Jenkins, Henry. “What is Civic Media?” Confessions of an Aca-Fan (blog), October 3, 2007.

Jenkins, Henry, Mizuko Ito, and danah boyd. Participatory Culture in a Networked Era: A Conversation on Youth, Learning, Commerce and Politics. New York: Polity Press, 2015.

Kellner, Douglas, and Jeff Share. “Critical Media Literacy, Democracy, and the Reconstruction of Education.” In Media Literacy: A Reader, edited by D. Macedo & S.R. Steinberg, 3-23. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2007.

Kiili, Carita, Laurinen, Leena, and Marttunen, Miika. “Students Evaluating Internet Sources: From Versatile Evaluators to Uncritical Readers.” Journal of Educational Computing Research 39, no. 1 (year): 75-95.

Kirp, David. Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.

Mastermann, Len. Teaching the Media. New York: Comedia Publishing Group, 1985.

Mihalidis, Paul, and Roman Gerodimos. “Connecting Pedagogies of Civic Media: The Literacies, Connected Civics, and Engagement in Daily Life.” In Civic Media: Technologies, Designs, Practices. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016.

Prensky, Mark. “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,” On the Horizon 9, no. 5 (2001).

Rheingold, Howard. Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.

Roth, Michael. Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015.

Silver, Cindy Hmelo. “Problem-Based Learning: What and How Do Students Learn?” Educational Psychology Review 16, no. 3 (2004): 235-266.

Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York City: Basic Books, 2009.

Notes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Michael Roth, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015).
  2. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar: An Oration Delivered Before the Phi Beta Kappa Society, at Cambridge, August 31, 1837,” in Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson: An Organic Anthology, ed. Stephen Whicher (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), 69.
  3. W.E.B. DuBois, The Education of Black People: Ten Critiques, 1906-1960, ed. Herbert Aptheker (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1973), 12.
  4. Ibid., 14-15.
  5. Danielle Allen and Jennifer S. Light, eds., introduction to From Voice to Influence (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2015).
  6. Eric Gordon and Paul Mihailidis, introduction to Civic Media: Technology, Design, Practice. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016).
  7. See Mark Deuze, “Participation, Remediation, Bricolage: Considering Principal Components of a Digital Culture,” The Information Society 22, no. 2 (2006): 63–75; Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York City: Basic Books, 2009); Nicholas Christakis, Connected: How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do (New York City: Penguin, 2011).
  8. David Kirp, Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).
  9. Howard Rheingold, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012).
  10. Henry Jenkins, Mizuko Ito, and danah boyd, Participatory Culture in a Networked Era: A Conversation on Youth, Learning, Commerce and Politics (New York: Polity Press, 2015), 11.
  11. Henry Jenkins, “What is Civic Media?” Confessions of an Aca-Fan (blog), October 3, 2007,
  12. Almost a decade later, and in no small part inspired by these efforts, we launched an online archive of civic media case studies and we published an edited volume with the title Civic Media that includes scholars and practitioners from a range of disciplines writing about contemporary phenomena through this lens.
  13. Lorna Fitzsimmons, “Liberal Arts in the Modern University,” American Association of University Professors 102, no. 1 (2016),
  14. This term is attributed to Marc Prensky, originally explained in Mark Prensky, “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,” On the Horizon 9, no. 5 (2001).
  15. John Dewey, Experience and Education (New York: Free Press, 2007): 139-151.
  16. Carita Kiili, Laurinen, Leena, and Marttunen, Miika, “Students Evaluating Internet Sources: From Versatile Evaluators to Uncritical Readers,” Journal of Educational Computing Research 39, no. 1 (year): 75-95.
  17. Maggie Fieldhouse and David Nicholas, “Digital Literacy as Information Savvy: The Road to Information Literacy,” in Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices, Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel, eds. (New York: Peter Lang, 2008).
  18. Jamie Bartlett and Carl Miller, Truth, Lies and the Internet: A Report into Young People’s Digital Fluency (London: Demos, 2011).
  19. Cindy Hmelo Silver, “Problem-Based Learning: What and How Do Students Learn?” Educational Psychology Review 16, no. 3 (2004): 236.
  20. Laurie Phillips Honda, “‘It Gets Better’ Project,” in Civic Media Project, ed. Eric Gordon and Paul Mihaildis (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2015),
  21. Jazmin Chavez, Sarwat Siddiqui, and Armando Somoza, “‘More Than a Quota:’ Youth-Led Creative Arts and Advocacy About the Stop & Frisk Policy,” in Civic Media Project, ed. Eric Gordon and Paul Mihailidis (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2015),
  22. David Buckingham, Media Education: Media, Literacy and Contemporary Culture (New York: Polity, 2003).
  23. John Dewey, Democracy and Education.
  24. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002).
  25. Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012).
  26. Douglas Kellner and Jeff Share, “Critical Media Literacy, Democracy, and the Reconstruction of Education,” in Media Literacy: A Reader, D. Macedo & S.R. Steinberg, eds. (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2007): 20.
  27. Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2000): 49.
  28. Paul Mihailidis and Roman Gerodimos, “Connecting Pedagogies of Civic Media: The Literacies, Connected Civics, and Engagement in Daily Life,” in Civic Media: Technologies, Designs, Practices (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016): 380.
  29. See
  30. Len Mastermann, Teaching the Media (New York: Comedia Publishing Group, 1985): 13.
  31. Sandra Barnes et al., introduction to Academics in Action! A Model for Community-Engaged Research, Teaching, and Service (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016).
  32. BCM was established by Eric Gordon, Paul Mihailidis and Catherine D’Ignazio, with support from Becky Michelson, at the Engagement Lab at Emerson College. See
  33. BCM founding university partners include Emerson College, Boston University, Harvard University, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Simmons College, Northeastern University, the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Tufts University, Wheelock College, Salem State University, and the Wentworth Institute of Technology.
  34. See
Eric Gordon & Paul Mihailidis

About Eric Gordon & Paul Mihailidis

Eric Gordon is the founding director of the Engagement Lab at Emerson College. He is also a faculty associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. Eric studies civic media and public engagement within the US and the developing world. He is specifically interested in the application of games and play in these contexts. In addition to being a researcher, he is also the designer of award winning "engagement games," which are games that facilitate civic participation. He has served as an expert advisor for the UN Development Program, the International Red Cross / Red Crescent, the World Bank, as well as municipal governments throughout the United States. In addition to articles and chapters on games, digital media, urbanism and civic engagement, he is the author of two books: Net Locality: Why Location Matters in a Networked World (Blackwell 2011, with Adriana de Souza e Silva), and The Urban Spectator: American Concept Cities From Kodak to Google (Dartmouth 2010). His edited volume (with Paul Mihailidis) entitled Civic Media: Technology, Design, Practice, will be published by MIT Press in 2016.

Gordon holds a B.A. from the University of California at Santa Cruz and a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California.

Paul Mihailidis's research explores the nexus of media literacy, young people and engagement in civic life. He is the Director of the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change, a program that annually gathers scholars and students from around the world to investigate media and global citizenship. His forthcoming book Media Literacy and the Emerging Citizen: Youth, Engagement and Participation in Digital Culture (Peter Lang 2014) explores the competencies young citizens need to thrive in the digital age.

Mihailidis has published widely on media literacy, global media, and digital citizenship. In addition to Media Literacy and the Emerging Citizen, he has edited two books: Media Literacy Education in Action: Theoretical and Pedagogical Perspectives (w/ Belinha DeAbreu, Routledge 2013) and News Literacy: Global Perspectives for the Newsroom and the Classroom (Peter Lang 2012). He has two forthcoming anthologies: The Civic Media Reader (MIT Press, w/ Eric Gordon) and the International Encyclopedia of Media Literacy (Wiley, with Renee Hobbs).

Mihailidis sits on the board of directors for the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), is the co-editor for the Journal of Media Literacy Education (JMLE), and the Associate Director of the Engagement Lab at Emerson College. Mihailidis has presented his research to the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), UNESCO, and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and traveled to China to join the board of the Academy for Global Media in Chongqing. As Director of the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change, Mihailidis oversees a program that gathers over 60 students and a dozen faculty from five continents for three weeks every summer to create multimedia media literacy products that are used in over 100 countries around the world.

At Emerson, Mihailidis teaches Media Literacy, Interactive Communication, and Digital Media and Culture. He holds a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; a M. Phil. from Stirling University; and a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland.

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