#CivicEngagement: An Exploratory Study of Social Media Use and Civic Engagement Among Undergraduates
Civic engagement is an activity that supports communities at local and national levels (Colby et al., 2000; Putnam, 1993; 2000). Within higher education, there has long been a desire to produce civically engaged graduates that will serve as leaders in addressing current and future societal problems. The task of developing young Americans that become socially aware, community-minded, and publicly involved requires a full understanding of the college learning environment for today's students. In recent years, the undergraduate environment has changed rapidly, with various digital social media presenting a new social and technological context for college students. Scholars have begun to explore the ways in which these social media have impacted the college environment, yet many areas for research have yet to be addressed. This exploratory qualitative study draws upon this growing literature base and social capital theory to ask: How do students understand the connection between social media use and their civic engagement while in college? This study presents data from six focus groups (n=35) and seven individual interviews conducted with students from campus organizations engaged in one of three pre-selected areas of civic engagement (Adler & Goggin, 2005). This study found that the students derived a great deal of civic value from their use of social media. These new media provide students with a constant stream of information that promotes both knowledge acquisition and the organization of others around common interests. However, findings from this study also indicate a number of challenges associated with the use of social media for civic learning and engagement, including the need to continuously filter an overwhelming amount of information and the intimidating nature of public civic debate online. The added value of social media in the development of civic behaviors speaks to a new way of thinking about ways to cultivate civic engagement. As colleges and universities continue to explore means to promote civic engagement as a learning outcome, the digital environments of students must be considered. A broad understanding of social technologies, along with a working knowledge of platform-specific features will help practitioners and scholars to better plan developmentally beneficial interventions.