Using an International Videoconference in Problem-Based Inquiry Projects: The Role of Public Voice, Audience, and Positionality, pp. 2 of 14

In three previous studies (Clark & Brown, 2011, 2013; Clark et al., 2016), my colleagues and I found that using public voice through discussion with an audience of international peers, via videoconferencing, to be an effective way for secondary students to reflect on their own values, attitudes, and beliefs regarding public issues, as well as their own civic engagement and positionality within the context of their communities. Our findings were also similar to other studies that engaged international peers in discussion through technology, which demonstrated that participants found the discussions to be engaging, valuable in increasing multicultural understanding, and a means for students to reflect on diversity in their own communities (Avery, Simmons, & Freeman, 2007; Cifuentes & Murphy, 2000; Gregerson & Youdina, 2009; Ke & Chávez, 2013). However, in our previous studies, the videoconferences focused on public issues that the teachers had chosen for the students to research and discuss, prior to the videoconference. While the curriculum in our previous studies could be characterized as critical and student-centered, it was not student-driven. Based on our findings in these three previous studies with secondary students, I wanted to explore the possibility of combining student-driven inquiry projects and international videoconferencing. By student-driven, I mean students were allowed to develop and justify their own public issues to initiate the inquiry process. I thought this shift could potentially be an important step in engaging their positionality and public voice in a more authentic and critical manner.

There is very little literature on engaging K-12 students’ positionality regarding public issues (Klesse, 2010), and only a few regarding historical thinking (Endacott, 2014; Levesque, 2009; Vansledright, 2002). However, Levesque (2009) noted the importance of positionality in his conclusions, and provided rationale for this article in writing, “Consideration of the contemporary context represents one (perhaps the best) possible way of examining one’s own positionality, as modelled by the community one inhabits” (p. 121). Engaging students’ positionality about community issues is related to the recent and growing literature on critical consciousness in civic and citizenship education (Epstein & Gist, 2015; Espino & Lee, 2011; McDonough, 2009). Johnson and Morris (2010) developed a framework matrix for critical civic education that draws from critical pedagogy to develop four critical characteristics (POLITICS/ideology, SOCIAL/collective, SELF/subjectivity, and PRAXIS/engagement) horizontally atop the matrix, and Cogan et al.’s (2002) definition of civic education (knowledge, skills, values, and dispositions) vertically aside the matrix.  Johnson and Morris (2010) emphasized aspects of critical consciousness throughout their matrix. For example, they framed the intersection of Dispositions and SOCIAL/collective on the matrix as “socially aware; cooperative; responsible towards self and others; willing to learn with others” and the intersection of Skills and SELF/subjectivity as “capacity to reflect critically on one’s ‘status’ within communities and society; independent critical thinking; speaking with one’s own voice” (p. 90). Broadly, critical consciousness entails students being able to actively identify issues in their everyday lives and understand how to address those issues, or as Godfrey and Grayman (2014) conceptualize it, “the degree to which individuals are able to ‘read’ social conditions critically and feel empowered to act to change those conditions” (p. 1801). Critical consciousness demands that students use their positionality to identify the critical issues in their community - and not rely on adults or others to tell them – so that they are empowered to address those issues through their own authentic motivation. Therefore, critical consciousness is an important aspect of developing students’ authentic public voice (Montgomery, 2014). This article will use data collected from students’ inquiry projects and their discussion of issues in an international videoconference, to reflect on the educational outcomes of engaging their positionality and public voice through inquiry and an international audience. 

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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