Knight Foundation funds high-tech civics initiatives at UF’s Bob Graham Center

Published: December 23rd, 2010

Category: Announcements, InsideUF, Top Stories

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida has one of the weakest civic cultures in the nation, ranking 46th among the 50 states, according to the National Conference on Citizenship. The Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida is dedicated to improving the state’s civic health by training a new and more effective generation of public and civic leaders.

With a $3 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the center will create a series of hi-tech educational tools, including an electronic “Great Civil Debate Wall;” and an interactive online course “Rethinking Citizenship,” among other initiatives.

Former Florida Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, himself a leader in pushing reforms in civic education, said, “This wonderful grant from the Knight Foundation will allow us to launch some very novel programs in areas like social media and interactive online experiences that will greatly expand our reach. There is so much information that inundates students and leaders every day. The skill we at the center need to develop in our citizens and leaders is how to assess that information and act on it.”

In awarding the grant, the largest ever received by the Bob Graham Center, Knight Foundation President and CEO Alberto Ibarguen said, “Knight Foundation promotes programs that inform and engage citizens. We think that is the key to sustaining democracy. It isn’t enough to simply bring back civic education. We should be open to new approaches that foster civic engagement, especially ones that use digital technology. The Bob Graham Center is an ideal laboratory for testing and studying new ways of strengthening the civic fabric of our society.”

New initiatives will include:
• Knight Effective Citizenship Fellows, who will do research to develop best practices in encouraging lifelong civic engagement.
• A Civic Debate Wall that will allow students to instantly engage in debate and conversation on issues. The wall will anchor interactive kiosks both on- and off-campus that will present opposing views.
• Rethinking Citizenship, an interactive, online course that will teach students civic engagement on local, state and national levels. A panel of experts and scholars will review the curriculum.
• Live forums and panel discussions that will take advantage of streaming technology, multimedia imagery and social media tools to link students and scholars around the world.

“The Knight Foundation recognizes that democracy requires both wisdom and engagement from its citizenry,” said Ann Henderson, director of the Bob Graham Center. “As a nation, we need to be more deliberative in our training of citizens. This grant will support our efforts to determine what practices and behaviors, such as service learning and the use of social media, will encourage us to become more active in our communities and more effective in bringing about change for the common good.”

For more information about these initiatives and the Bob Graham Center for Public Service, visit the Center’s website at www.bobgrahamcenter.ufl.edu.

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Writer
Vicki Gervickas, vgervickas@ufl.edu

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