Using an International Videoconference in Problem-Based Inquiry Projects: The Role of Public Voice, Audience, and Positionality, pp. 13 of 14

When we identified the silence on marriage equality in the videoconference, it gave me confidence that I could explain it to people in my community. I know it will be more difficult in my community because I know them, and can’t hang-up on them, but I know I can at least talk through our plan. (VR: 2)

The videoconference allowed the Utah students, and potentially the Macedonian students, to practice their public voice and develop self-confidence for their future public voice related to the issue of marriage equality.

Implications

The videoconference with Macedonian students legitimized the positionality (e.g. Madison, 2005) of Utah students’ public voice. The problem-based inquiry project engaged the Utah students in the development and shifting of their positionality, regarding the issue of marriage equality. The students’ positionalities were best demonstrated through their decision to address the issue through defining the concept of marriage in both civil and religious contexts. This decision not only reflected their own identities and positions in their community, but also reflected what they considered the most effective way to engage their community in a productive discussion of marriage equality – by defining marriage in their two-worlds. The decision to frame their inquiry in this manner generated new knowledge for the students. The videoconference, and the experience of their Macedonian peers, was vital in providing an initial opportunity to apply their public voice and demonstrate recognition of their positionality. The most generative articulation of their voice and positionality was in their recognition of silence on marriage equality in their own lives, and in Macedonia.

The students were not able to fully understand silence as an oppressive element in their community until their videoconference discussion. The discussion allowed the students to use their knowledge and experience to reason with their Macedonian peers in locating the silence on marriage equality in their society. The Utah students were compelled to critically reflect on their own community in order to illustrate the complexity of marriage equality to their Macedonian peers. This highlights one of the productive qualities of engaging in discussion with new, diverse, or global audiences who inevitably have different knowledge and experience based on their socio-cultural context (Levine 2008). The Utah students quickly realized in the videoconference discussion that their Macedonian peers did not understand the importance of marriage equality for recognition of LGBTQ citizens’ civil rights (Camicia, 2016), or the role their silence plays in limiting LGBTQ citizens protection under the law. The Utah students also realized that their Macedonian peers mirrored their own experience, prior to the project. The Utah students responded by breaking down the issue, reflecting on their own experience and knowledge, and generating awareness of silence on marriage equality in Macedonia. The Utah students benefitted from the distinct Macedonian audience because it initiated reflection on their own community and enabled them to demonstrate and apply their knowledge.

The project and subsequent videoconference allowed students to address complex issues on their own terms, and through their own process. The process of the problem-based inquiry project enabled the students to address the silence on marriage equality. The components of the problem-based inquiry project were not necessarily innovative or revolutionary, and draw upon and integrate components from two well-established civic education models (Project Citizen and Deliberating in a Democracy). The most innovative aspect of this project was the focus on audience. The Utah students engaged with a different audience at each stage of the project. Just like with the Macedonian students, they engaged in discussion and received feedback with a variety of community stakeholders. For example, the students who addressed marriage equality set-up a booth at both the local farmers market and the county fair to discuss the topic with community members. The marriage equality group had a target audience for their work clearly in mind. The audience they had in mind encompassed students like themselves, families like their own, and fellow citizens in general who did not fully understand their role as citizens in a civil rights issue, such as marriage equality. Once the students understood their own shifting positionalities, it helped them define their audience and shape their public voice. This enabled their public voice in the videoconference, and hopefully will enable their public voice as they continue to discuss the issue in their community.

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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