Deliberative democracy center continues leadership in teaching, scholarship

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- As the fall midterm elections approach our nation, Penn State’s Center for Democratic Deliberation (CDD) continues to develop new knowledge and training in rhetoric, debate and deliberation for students, educators and citizens through its initiatives in research, teaching and outreach.    

Since its founding in 2006, the CDD has had a significant impact on undergraduate and graduate education at Penn State, launching innovative changes in the University’s speaking and writing courses. For example, Rhetoric and Civic Life, a course for honors students and aspiring Paterno Fellows, offers comprehensive training in speaking, writing, visual and digital communications skills.

“As Penn State undergoes a revision of its General Education curriculum, the CDD serves as an important resource for developing new approaches to courses that teach citizenship skills,” said J. Michael Hogan, CDD director and Liberal Arts Research Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences.

In addition, the CDD has had success promoting a deliberative model of classroom teaching in a variety of educational settings. In partnership with the National Constitution Center and the State College Area School District, the center has sponsored K-12 teachers’ institutes on deliberation in the classroom. CDD faculty also helped to create high school educational programs using gaming technologies to teach history and Internet videoconferencing technologies to bring together diverse groups of students for real-time deliberations.  

Future plans call for collaboration with other centers and institutes to develop new platforms for online public deliberation, and intercollegiate debate and forensics.

One of the center’s successful projects has been the Voices of Democracy: The U.S. Oratory Project (VOD), created in conjunction with colleagues at the University of Maryland and Baylor University. Developed with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities grant, the website provides a digital archive of authenticated speech texts, including both famous and not-so-famous speeches in U.S. history, an online scholarly journal with critical essays about those speeches, and related teaching materials designed for college-level educators in U.S. history and rhetoric. “We are now in the process of upgrading the VOD site with a more attractive and interactive Web interface, along with an entirely new collection of teaching and learning resources designed specifically for K-12 teachers,” Hogan said.

The CDD recently announced the appointment of Christian Spielvogel as the center’s new Research Associate for Digital Humanities. Spielvogel will help develop new educational materials for VOD, as well as work on other educational projects utilizing educational games, role-playing simulations and other tools to promote critical engagement and deliberation among students. In addition, Spielvogel will work to develop Web-based materials to supplement scholarly books published in the CDD’s book series at the Penn State Press, "Rhetoric and Democratic Deliberation."

In 2013, the CDD was awarded a Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in recognition of its national leadership in promoting deliberative democracy. The college’s efforts to raise matching funds on behalf of the center have been successful with many Liberal Arts alumni and friends. The CDD is one of two Centers of Excellence associated with The McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State.

Nearly a decade ago, CDD began as a collaborative partnership between the College of the Liberal Arts faculty in English and Communication Arts and Sciences with expertise in rhetorical and deliberation studies. Today, over 50 Penn State faculty from many disciplines, including political science, law, education and information technologies, are affiliated with the center. Other important partners over the years have been the National Constitution Center, the Kettering Foundation and the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. 

“Our nation needs to find better ways to equip both students and the broader public with the knowledge and skills necessary for engaged citizenship,” Hogan added. “With the NEH Challenge Grant and support from our alumni, the college and Penn State, the CDD has achieved national leadership in the study and teaching of rhetoric and democratic deliberation, and we are helping to re-envision civic education for the 21st century.” 

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Last Updated September 12, 2014