CIVIC ENGAGEMENT AMONG STUDENTS IN A COMMUNICATION COURSE: A CASE STUDY
Lamm, Erica Jane
Wolvin, Andrew D.
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This study examines the thoughts about civic engagement of six unique undergraduate communication students as they take an upper-level argumentation and debate course. Although some scholars (Putnam, 2000) lament the drop in civic engagement in the United States, Jacoby (2009) and others argue that the 1990s "saw a dramatic increase in efforts to bring college and university resources to bear on both broad social issues and local problems" and that campus-community engagement has become increasingly important in recent years (p. 13). As communication scholars, one of our missions is, or should be, to enhance the communication skills that students need to be engaged citizens (Hogan, Andrews, Andrews, and Williams, 2008). To understand the role communication courses may play in the enhancement or creation of a sense of civic engagement in students, this case study followed six undergraduates through the course of their upper-level argumentation and debate course. Through interviews and journals, thick descriptions were written of these students' experiences, and themes were discovered. Several key themes emerged from the interviews. Students mentioned the importance of listening, though they did not explore the ethics of listening. Whether or not Americans are more or less civically engaged today met with mixed views. Definitions of civic engagement led students to the importance of local community. Interestingly, national or global efforts were not identified, even though President Obama was mentioned as the most prominent proponent of civic engagement. Attributes of civic engagement extended beyond listening to confidence and to media/technology literacy. Finally, audience, an important component of public speaking, was recognized as a critical skill necessary for civic engagement. Surprisingly, the students in this study were unable to articulate how to translate their considerable skills into the public arena, to actually become civically engaged.