Grok and Korg: Defining Digital Citizenship

Comparing Ideas about Digital Citizenship

In this assignment, we were asked to create a blog entry that explicitly brings together one of our blog posts and two (or more) posts by other students. I decided to return to Collection 2’s posts on digital citizenship definitions.

In Collection 2, we were asked to come up with a definition of digital citizenship before researching or consulting any outside material (the “Where Are You Now” post). In other words, what were our preconceived notions about the idea of digital citizenship? I chose to compare and contrast these posts because I was curious to see what kinds of “digital citizenship” ideas people had coming into the course. The course syllabus gives the catalog definition of the course, explaining that it involves, “An examination of critical elements of digital citizenship [whatever that is, if it exists at all].” If the instructor believes “digital citizenship” to be such an ambiguous and fluid term, I expect that I will find quite a variance in the “Where Are You Now?” posts, which makes this an interesting exercise.

What Do I Think?

In my Where Are You Now? post, I started off by discussing the traditional definitions of citizenship. As a political science instructor, I frequently discuss the concept of “citizenship,” and so I wrote about how adding “digital” to the term “citizenship” does or does not change the meaning. Basically, I concluded that citizenship bestows certain rights, incurs particular obligations, and denotes group membership. Digital citizenship, then, means you are entitled to certain rights online, you have certain obligations when you’re interacting digitally, and you are offered you an opportunity to participate in digital community.

And In Comparison…

In Sarah’s post, she provided a list of general guidelines that make a good “digital” participant. Interestingly, she based her list off of the rules from various online communities that she’d been a part of- so her definition of digital citizenship was based in practice and experience. Unlike my definition of digital citizenship, Sarah’s definition included a list of helpful and very practical guidelines for internet participation. For example, her list says, “give credit where credit is due,” which touches on licensing and IP concerns that are prevalent in digital citizenship (and not-s0-prevalent in “regular” citizenship). She also addresses the importance of tolerance in digital citizenship, saying “inclusive trumps exclusive,” and “try to see things from others’ perspectives.” She also included “contribute what you can/when you can,” which I really liked– it helps us conceptualize digital citizenship as an active, participatory thing instead of a list of things “not” to do online.

In Erin’s post, she started off by describing how she always thought of “digital citizenship” like being a “good citizen,” which equates to being an admirable, virtuous “do-gooder.” She mentioned that all lessons on digital citizenship that she’d heard of always started off with prohibitions against bullying and against posting embarrassing pictures online (think of the college admissions! And the future employers!) She continues, “As our world moves more and more online, I think “digital citizenship” goes beyond just being a “good citizen” online. Part of digital citizenship is knowing how to use many of the programs that we find online…” I appreciate that she offered a deeper conceptualization of digital citizenship by including the ability to use and interact with online tools fluently as part of digital citizenship. So, it’s about being a “good citizen” and following the golden rule and all that, but to her, it’s also about having the ability to navigate the different digital tools that are critical to full participation in modern life.

Dillon’s post was like mine, in that it was longer and more theoretical (and less practical, like Sarah, Erin, or Martha’s posts). However, I think Dillon and I have different ideas about what constitutes traditional citizenship and as a result, what constitutes digital citizenship. He says he doesn’t think digital citizenship exists, and says, “The main reason for that is life online is not a ‘citizenship’ because it’s an exclusive product of voluntary association which has its own problems and benefits and is inherently a non-political entity since force and expropriation isn’t a factor. Things and communities can be ‘politicized’ but the internet is not a political entity.”

So if I understand it correctly, Dillion argues that the primary distinction between citizenship and digital citizenship is as follows: citizenship is defined by our relationship with and submission to the authority of a territorial sovereign that exercises expropriation and force, and in comparison, life online consists of “voluntary association.”

I think the primary difference between my post and Dillon’s post is that he chose a definition of citizenship that is more specific than mine. He defines citizenship as a legal/political relationship between citizen and state. In other words, we are citizens because we have a legal relationship with a state, and that state can choose to expropriate (tax) and use force to maintain control. (Max Weber‘s definition of a state is that it is the only entity that has a monopoly of force… i.e., it’s the only institution that can legitimately use force, such as police/military).

So, on the other hand, my definition also encompasses sociological components, such as group membership or identity, as well as the benefits that we derive from the relationship we have with the state (hence my emphasis on rights, obligations, and community as I described in this post). Dillon’s definition primarily defines citizenship as what the state takes from you, whereas I ascribe to a view of citizenship that constructs more of a citizen-state exchange. When you use an expanded definition of citizenship like I did, I believe that it becomes easier to apply concepts of “citizenship” to digital life. We have rights within our state and online, we have obligations/duties within our state and online, and we have the opportunity to participate in community within our state and online. Overall, I enjoyed completing this close reading of Dillon’s post; it definitely challenged me to think about my own ideas of digital citizenship very critically.

Martha’s post is more similar to Sarah and Erin’s posts. She begins by defining digital literacy, explaining that “digital literacy is the understanding of how the devices work and how to use the devices along with understanding the content served up through technology.” According to Martha, we FIRST need to understand what digital literacy is, because digital citizenship is defined as how we engage with digital literacy. We have rights and responsibilities in how we exercise our digital literacy, and that’s what composes digital citizenship.

Summing It Up…

Reviewing all of these posts, I am struck by the variances in tone and main ideas. Here’s the main points of each post reviewed, in a nutshell:

  • Me: description of citizenship, and an attempt to connect traditional citizenship conceptualizations to digital citizenship
  • Sarah: practical normals/moral guidelines based on her own experience in online communities
  • Erin: behave yourself online, but also know how to use the tools to effectively navigate an increasingly digital world (digital fluency)
  • Dillon: digital citizenship doesn’t necessarily exist because life online is composed of free association and doesn’t involve violence
  • Martha: digital citizenship is how we interact with our own digital literacies

While certain elements of each of these posts resonate with me more than others, I think all of them are useful as we develop a conversation about digital citizenship. I appreciate that each student emphasized different components of digital citizenship, and spending significant time completing a close and critical reading of each of their posts has certainly deepened my own understanding about digital citizenship. I’ll be curious to hear if Sarah, Erin, Dillon and Martha agree with my comparison and discussion of their posts.

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Fire Away

In this assignment, we are tasked with sharing three outstanding questions related to the Americans with Disabilities Act, accessibility or anything else we’ve explored as part of this collection.

These are my three “most pressing” questions that remain at the end of this collection.

  1. My first question is not particularly profound but it certainly has been bugging me: what is Grok and Korg? I did my own quick searching and found this which would indicate it’s a reference to a kid’s book about a boy from the stone age (Grok) who magically gets propelled into the future, and so the book details his adventures living with a modern-day family (Korg’s). So how does story apply to this collection? (Especially because I haven’t ever read the book, I feel like I may be missing an important piece of the puzzle).
  2. I would like to know how well the current system of disability services actually works in higher education. In other words, do students who experience disabilities perform as well as their non-disabled peers? Are the accommodations actually serving their purpose of achieving equity in education? If we actually ask the disabled students themselves, would they say they are getting the services they need? This article would imply that it isn’t working so well, so what can we do in higher education to make it better, without overburdening faculty?
  3. Next, in my post on ADA and unreasonable/reasonable accommodations in higher education, I discussed what types of accommodations could be considered reasonable, and which could be considered unreasonable. Chris suggested that I include a “gray” section (in the second page of this infographic), discussing scenarios that would maybe be reasonable… but maybe be unreasonable. So I’ve come up with 4 more scenarios, each of which do not have a clear-cut answer as to what the professor should do. So the “pressing question” here is, what should the professor do in each of these situations?
    • A student has a therapy dog that needs to come to class with her. However, another student is terribly allergic to dogs. Should the professor accommodate for the needs of the student who experiences a disability, or accommodate the allergy of the other student?
    • A professor wants to give a short, 10-minute timed pop quiz at the beginning of 7 class meetings throughout the semester. However, a student has a documented accommodation for extended time and distraction-free environment for tests/quizzes. Planning for a distraction-free environment requires proctoring and thus advance notice, defeating the purpose of a “pop” quiz. Extended time on the test will also mean the student will miss class time.
    • A student is taking a Spanish conversation class, but he has a physical condition that requires him to miss class for weeks at a time. Over 75% of the grading for the course depends on in-class work and group work.
    • A student has a visual impairment that requires her to have preferential seating in the front of the class. However, the student also has a physical condition that requires her to get up and move around frequently, which can be disruptive to the rest of the class.
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Grok and Korg: Collaborative Discussion

For this assignment, I worked with Heidi, Tatiana, and Sarah to compare and contrast our experiences and final products from last collection’s “Collaborate (A Little)” exercise. We connected via Twitter, and then collaboratively created a list of 9 discussion questions using a shared Google doc. Before our Google Hangout video, Heidi prepped a spreadsheet that outlined each of the variations on the 10 statements. We discussed the Collaborate posts from these 5 groups:

D’Arcy, Valerie, Sarah, and Linnea

Heidi, Nick, and Samantha

Martha and Erin

Noelle and Tatiana

Rebecca and John

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Search & Research: EFF

The Electronic Frontier Foundation

The red and black logo of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, whose motto is, "Defending Your Rights in the Digital World"

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a nonprofit, public interest law firm that has been working for people’s online rights and civil liberties since 1990. Primarily, they focus on privacy, the freedom of speech, expression, and association, and consumer rights to intellectual property (such as fair use). According to EFF, they “work to ensure that rights and freedoms are enhanced and protected as our use of technology grows.” To accomplish their work, EFF analyzes policies, promotes grassroots activism and technology development, and pursues “impact litigation.”

6 icons that represent the 6 major areas in which the EFF works
EFF advocates for free speech, fair use, the rights of innovators, individual privacy, protection of digital freedoms internationally, and government transparency.

Major EFF Initiatives

This article provides a succinct overview of the EFF’s major initiatives.

  1. Transparency Project. EFF’s transparency project seeks to ensure that the government doesn’t overstep its bounds, and that civil liberties of citizens are protected. In a post-9/11 world, government surveillance is increasingly a concern. EFF lawyers use the Freedom of Information Act to request relevant information and keep the government accountable.
  2. Litigation for Equal Rights/Fairer Laws. EFF frequently uses litigation to push back against legislation that violate digital freedoms. This link shows all of EFF court cases.
  3. Technology Research and Development. EFF is working to develop technological projects that protect freedom and privacy online, like HTTPS Everywhere, MyTube, and Switzerland.
  4. Codifying Digital Free Speech. EFF seeks to protect the free speech of bloggers and coders and prevent censorship. According to EFF, when you go online, your freedoms should come along with you. That becomes particularly important when talking about online free speech, expression, and association.
  5. Protecting Privacy. New technology makes invasion of privacy even easier than it was in the past. EFF works to protect digital privacy, including litigation against NSA spying, protection of medical privacy, and transparency in drone surveillance (among many other projects).
  6. Open Wireless Movement. EFF and a coalition of other organizations have launched the Open Wireless Movement and are “working on new technologies and best practices that will allow individuals, businesses, and community organizations to open up their wireless networks—while not sacrificing privacy, security, and quality.”

This is just a snapshot of the work that EFF does. Go here and click through the icons at the top, and you’ll get a better idea of the depth and breadth of the EFF’s work in protecting digital freedom. EFF’s work is all about how citizens interact with the digital world, which makes the connections to this class (digital citizenship) fairly evident. EFF addresses fair use and intellectual property (which we discussed extensively as part of Collection 3), as well as things like internet privacy, which also seems to be a recurring theme/point of discussion throughout the class to this point. EFF invites participation and depends on membership/donations, so if you believe in EFF’s mission and activities, EFF gives you an opportunity to practically exercise digital citizenship.

For more research…

  • This article from The Guardian, posted on July 21, 2016, explores one of the EFF’s contemporary court cases. The EFF recently filed a lawsuit against the US government, claiming that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is unconstitutional. Particularly, EFF is arguing that rule 1201, which relates to Digital Rights Management, is unlawful. (Digital rights management makes it illegal to break a access control on copyrighted material). The lawsuit could take years to be decided, but a decision in EFF’s favor would be a significant change in copyright and intellectual property law.
  • In this 2011 podcast, Mari Frank, attorney and privacy consultant, interviews Lee Tien. Lee Tien is a Senior Staff Attorney for the EFF, specializing in the Freedom of Information Act and internet privacy. In this podcast, Tien discusses EFF’s work in protecting privacy online, and discusses the flow of personal information from business to government.
  • This blog post provides a succinct overview of the EFF’s mission, and identifies 7 of the “top” initiatives/programs undertaken by EFF. Because EFF’s work is so extensive, this post is useful because it simply highlights a few of the EFF’s most interesting projects.
  • In this video clip, Stephen Colbert interviews Cindy Cohn, who is now the Executive Director of EFF. Previously, she served as EFF’s Legal Director and General Counsel. In 2013, Cohn was named one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America. Despite Colbert’s shenanigans, Cohn manages to discuss a few off EFF’s key issues in the interview, such as net neutrality, fair use, and freedom of speech online.
  • This article in the Washington Post describes the immediate impact of the Snowden on EFF’s work, and the relationship between EFF and Washington. The article explains: “Having started as a public interest law firm and dabbled in lobbying, EFF in San Francisco evolved into something more like a civil liberties think tank that happened to employ teams of crack technologists and grass-roots political activists.” It outlines the culture, mission, and values of EFF, and describes some of its primary techniques EFF uses to accomplish its goals (such as impact litigation).
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Exploring the ADA

To answer the following questions and explore the ADA in more depth, I chose to create a Prezi, an infographic, and a flow chart.

Go here to see my response to these first two questions:

  • What is the Americans with Disabilities Act and who does it protect?
  • Why are the terms “Title II” and “Section 504” important to this discussion?

Next, I made an infographic to answer this question: what is IDEA and who does it protect? How does it differ from the ADA?

Image of textbooks and school-related items, with the following definition of reasonable accommodations superimposed: "Schools have to be willing to change the way things are usually done to make sure that a student with a disability can participate equally. This might mean changing rules/policies, removing barriers, or providing aids, services, or assistive technology."Lastly, I chose to answer these last three questions in a flow chart. I grouped these questions together because I think understanding reasonable and unreasonable accommodations will be most applicable to my future working life. These are the questions answered in the flow chart:

  • What is a “reasonable accommodation” and what else are those called in the educational setting?
  • What might make an accommodation unreasonable?
  • The big one: how do ADA, IDEA and other legislation in the readings and your exploration so far apply to you in your working (or future working) life (where might or do you find yourself needing to take ADA, IDEA, etc. into account?)
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Metathink #2: Fair Use

I decided to reflect on the Fair Use post that I completed, using a few of the questions provided for the “thinking about thinking” assignment as a guide for my reflection.

What did you find most challenging? I found it difficult to get over my concern about potentially breaking copyright law and actually post the copyrighted materials in a public forum online. I frequently use/used copyrighted materials in my teaching, but that was usually within the confines of a classroom or hidden behind a password-protected LMS, so I felt “safer” about it. I could relate to Linnea’s fear about “being a criminal,” especially because I chose to use a photograph from the New York Times— a photograph is a creative element, and the New York Times isn’t a small or inconsequential publishing entity. Linnea posted a “Fair Use Evaluator” tool, and I think I will use this frequently in the future to help justify my use of copyrighted materials, so that I can use the best possible materials confidently.

Why do you think I required it? I particularly liked this assignment because it moved us beyond just “thinking” about fair use in the academic sense, and gave us the opportunity to practice fair use. Last semester, I took ED 653 (Instructional Design) and one of the concepts frequently emphasized was the value of “performance-based learning.” We learn by doing, and I think this assignment gave us the opportunity to “do” and therefore “learn.”

What advice would you give a student if you could travel into the future and give them advice? I would advise them to push the limits of what they feel comfortable with, copyright-wise. In other words, this is your opportunity to get feedback on what is/isn’t fair use… in the future, you’ll have to make that decision on your own. So don’t “play it safe” for this assignment; use materials that are questionable so you can take advantage of the feedback and start figuring out for yourself what works and what doesn’t.

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Work Out Loud

Task: post a work in progress along with questions and thoughts of your own that address the 5 elements of working out loud.

According to this article,

“Working Out Loud starts with making your work visible in such a way that it might help others. When you do that – when you work in a more open, connected way – you can build a purposeful network that makes you more effective and provides access to more opportunities.”

Thinking about the Five Elements of Working Out Loud

I tried to come up with something academic and deep and thoughtful for this final post, but I was having a hard time concentrating coming up with something, which I actually can blame on my one, big “work in progress.” Which is, I am moving this week from Maryland to South Carolina. All of our other moves have been from Alaska to the lower 48 (or the reverse of that), so this move, in theory, should be easier since it’s only a mere 9-hour drive from the old duty station to the new home. But moving is always a lot of work, and since the moving company comes tomorrow, it is definitely at the “work in progress” stage!

I’ll briefly discuss each of the 5 elements of a “work in progress” and then I will share my “work in progress.”

1. Making my work visible. (Disclaimer: these pictures are from past moves, because my house won’t look like this until tomorrow).

2a
At least the dog thinks moving is fun.

 

2011-06-02_16-03-37_953
The “guess what’s in this big jumble of moving blankets and tape” game.

The whole point of the first element is to “make my work visible in a way that might help others.” Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure how making this type of work visible will help others, but then I remembered that during my first few moves, I really benefitted from posts like this and this; blog posts in which other military spouses have shared their experiences on moving and what makes a successful move. The military and military organizations provide lots of tips and resources, but sometimes it’s easier just to learn from the experiences of others in your same situation.

2. Making my work better. By writing about the experience of a military move, hopefully I will find ways to improve it. Efficiency is the key to a smooth move, and so creating a written record (this time) of what I did, didn’t do, and forgot to do, can result in a more efficient move for next time.

3. Leading with generosity. I’m not just looking for help with my own “work in progress,” but I’m looking to help others, too.

4. Building a social network. The more I get into the practice of “working out loud,” the more connections I will make. Collaboration can result in greater productivity and innovation.

5. Making it all purposeful. Creating goals for my “works in progress” helps to ensure that the work is targeted and focused. Identifying what I haven’t yet done for this move reminds me of what I need to do!

Sharing the Work in Progress

These are the tasks that have already been completed:

  • Scheduled a walk-through with our landlord
  • Took down all pictures and curtains
  • Got copies of all medical and vet records, gathered important papers/documents into an “important papers” file that travels with us and doesn’t get packed by the movers
  • Ate up almost all of the food in the fridge/freezer (been working on that one for a while)
  • Bought a case of water and a case of gatorade and ice (to put in a cooler) for the movers since they’ll be working really hard in 90 degree + weather. Movers will treat your stuff better if you are kind to them!
  • Washed sheets, towels, and final loads of laundry
  • Found, made an offer, accepted a counteroffer, and closed on a house in South Carolina
  • Transferred the utilities at our house in South Carolina into our name, and closed out all utilities/internet/cable here
  • Cleared out one large closet and started putting things in it that (a) the movers won’t pack (so we need to take with us in our car), and (b) that we will need in the 2 weeks that we are between houses. Movers won’t pack a lot of liquids, and everything they pack will get exposed to really hot temperatures, so that means anything that will melt (like candles) or get ruined in heat (like everything in the medicine cabinet) comes with us. Also, this closet so far has things like: an air mattress, camp chairs, a box of kitchen supplies, towels, pillows, etc. We call it “PCS camping.”
  • Reserved a trailer so we can haul more stuff
  • Sold a bunch of stuff on eBay and Craig’s List, and took 2 trips to Goodwill. Don’t go to the trouble of packing, hauling, and unpacking stuff you don’t even want anymore.
  • Photographed and made an inventory of valuable belongings so we have proof that items weren’t damaged before the move, in case we need to make a claim

These are the tasks that still need to be completed:

  • Unhook and prep the washer/dryer
  • Finish cleaning out fridge/freezer, transfer any leftovers into disposable containers, run the dishwasher one more time so all dishes are clean and ready to be packed
  • Separate out sentimental items to hand-carry with us. It doesn’t ever really happen… but things get stolen, fall off trucks, sink with the ship (not this time since our stuff doesn’t have to go on a boat between Anchorage and Seattle), but you get the idea. If you’d be heartbroken if you lost it, don’t let it out of your sight (if possible)
  • Clean, clean, clean so we won’t get charged during the walkthrough
  • Call the auto repair shop- my car broke down last week & we’re keeping our fingers crossed it will be done by the time we need to drive it to South Carolina (another moving tip: something like this always, always happens, so just be ready to roll with it)
  • Tape off the closet with the stuff we don’t want the movers to pack. Usually I take masking tape and make a big sign that says something like, “DO NOT PACK.” The movers roll in fast and furious and so I’ve heard stories of things like trash and the family cat getting packed up if you’re not careful.
  • Find a quiet corner to set up the dog’s crate so he’s not underfoot and stressed out
  • Pack up clothes, laptop, internet router, and whatever else we’ll need for the next two weeks
  • Finish Collection 3 for ED 654 so I won’t be trying to work on schoolwork over the chaos of the next 3 days

So there you have it! I feel like this list is a jumbled mess, but that’s probably an accurate account of this current “work in progress”! And since the point of a “work in progress” is to share something that isn’t polished, complete, or perfected, sharing this list will meet the requirements of this assignment.

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Participatory Citizenship

Assignment: Find and describe 3 digital tools that can be used to promote participatory citizenship. For each tool, describe how it works, and then analyze if it works.

Tool 1: See Click Fix

How does it work? SeeClickFix streamlines the process of citizen complaints, and allows citizens to more easily draw government officials’ attention to problems in communities. Smartphone apps allow citizens to capture problems and send them instantly to the correct place for attention. This is what the interface looks like:

Screen shot of a See Click Fix interface. A citizen in New Haven, Connecticut reports a problem, the Department of Public Works responds, and the problem is fixed.
Example of SeeClickFix being used in New Haven; turning complaints into gratitude. Source: Gizmodo.

SeeClickFix operates under three basic principles: empowerment, efficiency, and engagement. Citizens are empowered to report problems and assist government officials in creating better communities. SeeClickFix is efficient because “distributed sensing is particularly powerful at recognizing patterns,” making it easier for government officials to identify trends and problems. Lastly, citizens who take the time to report issues will be more engaged in their community, which creates a “self-reinforcing loop.” It makes the process of submitting a complaint a more user-friendly experience. As founder of SeeClickFix explains, instead of making a user feel like a narc, SeeClickFix rewards them. “The government wants to talk to you,” said founder Berkowitz. “You’re not being an asshole, you’re actually helping out.”Image from See Click Fix website that describes their process: 1) Capture or document issues you see in your community, 2) report the issues to let the neighborhood know, and 3) communicate with your community and government through the mobile app.

But does it work? SeeClickFix reports that over 2,271,448 problems have been fixed as a result of their technology. Cities like Minneapolis, Decatur, Houston, and New Haven use SeeClickFix. It’s used in almost 300 citizens and according to this article by Gizmodo, its requests see an 86% fix rate. Of course, the power of this tool is limited by (1) the number of citizens who are willing to engage and use the app, and (2) the responsiveness of government officials.

Tool 2: Open Secrets

How does it work? OpenSecrets.org is a website run by the Center for Responsive Politics. This describes the center’s mission:Text block that describes the Center's mission, which is to "inform, empower, and advocate." Nonpartisan, independent, and nonprofit, the Center for Responsive Politics is the nation's premier research group tracking money in US politics and its effect on elections and public policy. OUR VISION is for Americans, empowered by access to clear and unbiased information about money's role in politics and policy, to use that knowledge to strengthen our democracy. OUR MISSION is to produce and disseminate peerless data and analysis on money in politics to inform and engage Americans, champion transparency, and expose disproportionate or undue influence on public policy.

OpenSecrets provides voters, reporters, and others with hard data about money in politics. It looks at spending by interest groups, super PACs, political nonprofits, federal lobbying, “dark money,” and personal finances of government officials. By gathering and reporting data, OpenSecrets works to make government more transparent. For example, they just rolled out an iPhone app (“Dollarocracy”) that tracks spending on campaign ads. Among other things, the Center tracks anomalies in campaign finance, creates easy-to-read fact sheets on campaign finance issues for voters, and offers their data for scholars to use in performing robust academic research.

But does it work? According to the website, in 2012, OpenSecrets recorded nearly 35 million pageviews from 5 million distinct visitors. It has received high praise from news reports and academic sources. According to the New York Times, “The Center for Responsive Politics is a rare thing in Washington. It does the heavy lifting of true research, not just spinning information.” I think the most useful part of OpenSecrets.org is the place where you can look up your own representatives. For example, I looked up the data for 2014 Congressional election in Alaska, and here’s what it looks like:

Screen Shot of OpenSecrets.Org search for Alaska Congressional Races in 2014. It shows that Senator March Begich (D) raised over $10 million, while Dan Sullivan (R) raised $7 million.

If you click on “Dan Sullivan,” it takes you to this page, which breaks down all sorts of information about Sullivan’s spending and finances, such as these two pieces of info:

Chart that shows the top 5 contributors and top 5 industries who contributed to Dan Sullivan's campaign from 2013 to 2016. Screen Shot 2016-07-16 at 12.32.08 PM

Transparency is critical for a democracy, and OpenSecrets.org helps promote transparency in campaign finance. This data can prove invaluable for news agencies and academics, but… given that most Americans probably don’t have their own finances in order, I am doubtful that the average citizen really cares about campaign finance or has the motivation to sift through data and use it to make voting decisions. However, for the motivated citizen, this could be a really valuable tool in terms of making informed voting decisions.

Tool 3: Volunteer Match

How does it work? VolunteerMatch “brings good people and good causes together.” Right away on the homepage, you see a search window like this (obviously adjusted for your particular location).

Screen Shot of VolunteerMatch.Org showing a search bar that allows you to search for issues you care about, or browse major issues like advocacy and human rights, animals, and school development.

This database allows you to search for volunteer opportunities that match your particular interests and skills. You can search options by local/virtual and select any of these causes:

Screenshot from volunteermatch.org that shows the entire list of cause areas available on the website, which include arts and culture, children and youth, community, emergency and safety, environment, race and ethnicity, women, and many more.

For example, I searched near my location and found opportunities to bake cakes for people in hospice, host an international exchange student, teach English as a second language, help a small nonprofit with marketing and communications, and a lot more. However, I do imagine this tool is particularly useful in larger metropolitan areas. You may not be able to find as many opportunities in small towns.

These are some stats on VolunteerMatch’s success:

Screenshot from VolunteerMatch.Org which shows important statistics on the website's success: over 100,000 participating organizations, over 11 million volunteers matched, and over 100,000 volunteer opportunities available.

But does it work?  I like the fact that you can actually find volunteer positions that take advantage of your professional skills– if you’re a marketing professional, you can volunteer to help with marketing; if you’re good with kids, you can find opportunities that will allow you to use those skills, etc. This could actually be pretty beneficial to volunteer as well as service agency, since you are building your own resume/skill set while helping your community.

Too, volunteerism and community connection is actually a critical part of participatory citizenship. Citizens who get involved are more likely to care and get involved in other areas of politics and community (that “self-reinforcing loop” mentioned in the See Click Fix description). Democracy depends on a citizenry that knows how to compromise and communicate, and civil society participation (like volunteering) can help foster those values.

In Summary…

I intentionally chose different categories of civic engagement– civic reporting (SeeClickFix), government transparency (OpenSecrets), and civil society building (VolunteerMatch). Tons of apps and websites exist for each of these types of categories, and more! Hope you have a chance to check some of them out for yourself.

Score: 10/10

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