Prof Draws Social Media Lessons from Egypt’s Revolt

Social media didn’t lead to the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, but this new system of communication certainly played a role in the process of the revolt.

Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square had to organize without Internet communication after the Egyptian government crackdown. (Photograph by Ramy Raoof)

Dr. David Parry, assistant professor of Emerging Media and Communication at The University of Texas at Dallas, argues that anInternet-equipped public is substantially different from a non-Internet-enabled one, and that while we haven’t been deluded by the Internet’s possibilities, we ought to be careful not to overestimate them.

“What happened in Egypt and Tunisia would have looked much different, played out differently if the ‘how’ of the revolution had been different, if social media had not been one of the tools used as a means of communication,” Parry stated.

Parry homed in specifically on the Egyptian government’s decision to shut down citizen access to the Internet. The government also cut mobile phone service, forcing protesters to rely on more traditional means of communication.

“While other countries have ‘pulled the plug’ on the Internet, namely Burma in 2007 and Nepal in 2005, this is the first time that a country with such a large Internet penetration had entirely shut off access. But while the Egyptian government could shut down the hardware of the Internet, it could not shut down the social effects of the digital network.

“In the same way a public is fundamentally changed by the existence of print technology, a public is fundamentally altered by access to the digital network,” Parry said. “This is what makes the situation in Egypt different from Burma and Nepal – in the latter cases the government was shutting down access to information from the outside and controlling the flow of news; but Egypt was shutting down the way that a substantial portion of their populace was communicating.”

“In the same way a public is fundamentally changed by the existence of print technology, a public is fundamentally altered by access to the digital network,” Dr. David Parry said.

Parry also cites China as an example of an authoritarian government that can shut off access to the Internet at any time. Internet censorship in China is conducted under a wide variety of laws and administrative regulations, and is considered more extensive and more advanced than in any other country in the world, Parry said. The regime not only blocks website content but also monitors the Internet access of individuals.

However, Parry argues that the situation in China differs from that in Egypt because the Chinese people use Chinese-based Internet services, and remain largely unaffected when Western sites such as Facebook or even Google are shut down. The Egyptians were much more reliant on Western services, and therefore felt the effects and demanded change.

Parry takes issue with the belief that social media produces a revolution in and of itself, but also acknowledges that the tools we use alter our means of communication. Social media is able to give a voice to those who previously had none – dissidents, anarchists, and even the average everyman – and in the case of Egypt, that voice appears to have been heard and answered.

But Parry warns potential copycats hoping for a similar outcome: “A digitally networked public can just as easily be used for social ill as for social justice; nothing guarantees that civic engagement yields civic progress. But it does guarantee that a public with the Internet has a substantially different relation to its government than a public without the Internet.”

Game Creators Have Designs on Making Learning Fun

UT Dallas Teams Enter Their Educational Video Games into National Contest

Two teams of Arts and Technology (ATEC) and Computer Science students from The University of Texas at Dallas have entered the first annual National STEM Video Game Challenge.

Could Playing Video Games at School Help Kids Learn More?
Dr. Tom Linehan, director of Arts and Technology (ATEC) at UT Dallas, discusses the possibilities of using electronic games in education in an intervew on the KERA-FM show Think.

Inspired by the “Educate to Innovate” campaign – President Barack Obama’s initiative to promote a renewed focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education – the National STEM Video Game Challenge aims to motivate learning among America’s youth by tapping into students’ natural passions for playing and making video games.

Both UT Dallas teams entered into the Collegiate Prize division, which awards $25,000 to the top undergraduate or graduate game submission geared toward young children (grades pre-K through 4). The first team, comprising students Jainan Sankalia, Liz Paradis, Chris Camacho and Matthew Tackett, created “Mission Earth: The Search for Hamburgers.” In “Mission Earth,” players learn the scientific method by helping a cute alien, Gumpert, explore the planets.

“We entered because it seemed like a fun, unique challenge to tackle, with the potential for national recognition,” Sankalia said. “Our game is designed to help young kids learn the steps of the scientific method, a core mentality that applies across STEM fields, and to help kids cultivate a desire to learn more about space.”

The second team, made up of students Tony Wu, Adam Chandler, Michael Kaiser and Daniel Ries, created “Space Cadet,” a game that teaches kindergartners about basic math concepts such as length and height by launching rockets.

Space Cadet teaches kindergartners basic mathematical concepts such as length and height by launching rockets.

Wu said, “A chance to design games is always welcome.  Using space exploration as a background for our game and in-game learning objectives as the base concepts for learning, we hope to create a fun learning experience that doesn’t feel like learning.”

Dr. Monica Evans, assistant professor of game design at UT Dallas, said, “I’m thrilled that so many of our students, many of whom are working on educational or training game-based research projects, are able to take that experience and create their own educational games. I’m very proud of both teams and wish them both the best of luck.”