Two things have particularly impressed me during my first two weeks as a European Union Fellow at the University of Washington.
The first is the warm welcome and useful advice I have received from the people I am working with at the University, particularly Phil Shekleton and his colleagues at the Jackson School of International Studies.
The second is how interested and well informed both faculty and students are here about events thousands of kilometres away in the European Union. The breadth and depth of their knowledge is impressive, although clearly the Euro crisis continues to dominate both the press coverage and public image of the EU on this side of the Atlantic.
The Task Force I mentioned in my previous post has got off to a flying start. I am enjoying working with Sabine Lang, who is responsible for this class and who has recently published a book on “NGOs, Civil Society and the Public Sphere”. Many of the students have studied or travelled recently in Europe, so they are able to bring their own experiences and impressions into the mix, as well as the academic texts and official documents we have been studying.
The remarks and questions I have heard so far from the Task Force students would not be out of place in the discussions we have in Brussels, for example at our annual Europcom event. Does the EU suffer from a “democratic deficit”? How can we involve people more closely in decisions that affect them? Is there such a thing as a European sense of identity, or a European public sphere? What does it mean to be a “European citizen”?
It has also been interesting to see how today’s students choose to work with digital media to collaborate and organize their work. The coordinators of our Task Force have set up a system including an email distribution list, SMS alerts via Groupme, document sharing via Dropbox, collaboration on documents via Google docs and a Facebook group for informal exchanges. Other online tools we have been looking at include Wunderlist for task management and Zotero for managing citations.
I was invited this week to deliver a guest lecture to a class on “Peacemaking in Europe” taught by Christine Ingebritsen, the Director of the Centre for West European Studies here at the University of Washington. We had a lively exchange that touched on a wide variety of topics, including the Nobel Peace Prize, the impact of the Euro crisis, enlargement, external relations, security and defence.
As an EU Fellow, I have also been offered the opportunity to participate in classes that relate to my research interests. This quarter, I am following two classes that I think will offer some really interesting insights for our work on digital media in the EU context.
The first class, taught by David Evans as part of UW’s Master of Communication in Digital Media, is on the “psychology of digital media”. It looks at how psychological theory can help to explain how humans interact with user interfaces, as well as how psychology can inform good design and improve the user experience. David uses plenty of practical examples from websites, consumer games and other everyday technology to illustrate potential pitfalls, as well as good practice. Many of the issues covered reminded me of the discussions we have been having within the Commission on improving and rationalizing our websites.
“Digital media and politics” is the second class, taught by Professor Lance Bennett. Lance brings a wealth of experience from his research and published works on the impact of changing communication technologies on political participation and organisation (in the USA and across the world). He has managed to recruit an amazing mix of students from different academic backgrounds (political science, sociology, geography, communication …) and with relevant professional experience of working with digital media in government, journalism, political campaigning and the private sector. This is certain to produce some rich discussions from a combination of perspectives.
One final note – digital media are proving to be an invaluable tool for keeping in touch with family, friends and colleagues in Europe, although finding the right time of day to connect with people is a challenge!