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The Internet: A Tool for Civic Engagement?

A recent study, funded by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, has found youths who pursue their interests on the Internet are more likely to be civically and politically engaged.

The study, written by Joe Kahn, an education professor at Mills College, found that youths who participated in interest-driven online communities also did more volunteer and charity work, as well as advocacy for community issues. It also disputed concerns about the "echo chamber"—that students are only exposed to political viewpoints they agree with on the Internet. It found the perhaps disconcerting reality is that 34 percent of students surveyed said they did not come across political messages at all, while only 5 percent said they were only exposed to political viewpoints consistent with their own.

The study, which grew out of surveys of 2,500 students in 19 California districts, including 400 students who were followed for 3-and-a-half years, also found that digital media literacy education significantly increased students' exposure to differing political perspectives and boosted engagement with civic and political issues in youth.

The study has sparked a newly-formed network of research scholars who aim to conduct studies and research about the potential of digital media to boost civic engagement in youth called the MacArthur Network on Youth and Participatory Politics. The group will be chaired by Kahne.

Links to the three working papers that went into the study can be found here. Click below to watch a video of Kahne discussing the effect of digital media and the Internet on civic engagement in youngsters.

Joseph Kahne from New Learning Institute on Vimeo.

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