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Digital activism and learning transformations

Katerina ZOUROU et Anthippi POTOLIA

Topic of the call

This thematic issue explores transformations in (distance) learning brought about by different types of social engagement mediated by digital technology, which we refer to as digital activism.

Ever since the development of the social web and more so with the pandemic, citizen initiatives have been on the rise: marches (#FridaysForFuture, #metoo, etc.), citizen science, hackathons, datathons, crowdfunding and maker communities are some of the best-known examples of the many expressions of social participation, with varying motivations, digital uses and degrees of organisation.

It would be a mistake to think of digital activism manifestations as being only spontaneous or sporadic. These manifestations denote a deep-seated change in terms of citizen identity and civic engagement, even though these events occur remotely and are qualified as technology mediated practices (Tufekci, 2017). At most, the field of education creates new dynamics around types of digital activism. On the one hand, several school establishments and universities around the world host maker spaces or fab labs, as expressions of social consciousness (Lord & Dubreil, 2021). On the other hand, taking part in digital activism initiatives is encouraged by a number of formal education institutions as a vector of skills (Strasser et al., 2019). Furthermore, during the Covid-19 pandemic, several universities took part in social action campaigns with staff and students – in particular hackathons – to meet challenges connected with the health crisis (i.e., the pan-European EUvsVirus hackathon) – interpreted as an invitation to “dismantle knowledge boundaries” (Bertello et al, 2021).

The new relationships to knowledge mediation, which are emerging from these practices, have a bearing on (distance) learning. Indeed, in the digital activism practices mentioned above, peer informal and non-formal learning (Brougère, 2007) is observable. In parallel to this, these practices are very often initiated and supported by formal education contexts (Lampe et al., 2010) and may constitute sorts of bridging activities (Thorne & Reinhardt, 2008) blurring the boundaries between formal, informal and non-formal education contexts. However, what requires exploration is the way in which digital activism practices call on the key principles of social-constructivist, multilingual and multicultural instructional approaches, which are highly sought-after in the field of distance learning. Once can briefly mention principles of peer and autonomous learning, transdisciplinarity, situated learning, the development of intrinsic motivation, knowledge, know-how and soft skills, interculturality, multilingualism, mutual understanding, tolerance, social justice and so on. This perception, which is in no way technical in nature, of the various types of social engagement mediated by digital technology entrenches them in an approach firmly focused on humans (Potolia & Derivry-Plard, under print) and the humanism of diversity (Glissant, 1997).

This special issue explores citizen- and socio-educational movements in the many forms that mediation can take, the absence (or at most the very limited presence) of knowledge mediation, the experiential dimension in skills acquisition (Djambian and Agostinelli, 2012), and the socio-constructivist principles in the form of multi, inter and trans, as an invitation to the scientific community to study this phenomenon in greater detail.

From another viewpoint, it is important to note that digital activism – in particular in the case of projects undertaken or supported in formal education contexts – leads us to a new perception of the role of education and training stakeholders. The dimension of social consciousness also impacts the identity of teachers and trainers as citizens (cf. scholar activism, Ramasubramanian & Sousa, 2021, and the Extinction Rebellion Scientists movement). The separation of the citizen identity from the professional identity, as well as the reconsideration of one single identity (identity of the teacher: transmitter and of the student: receiver or receptacle), should therefore be further explored.

The orientations and objectives of this special issue

This issue focuses on digital activism from a perspective of practices, meaning and challenges for (co)education and (co)training, whether it is connected to formal learning contexts (middle schools, high schools or universities) or informal and non-formal contexts (citizen communities, spontaneously formed groups of net users). More specifically, the aim is to gather contributions which examine (non) formal learning methods in digital activism initiatives as a growing social-digital phenomenon.


This special issue aims to expand scientific knowledge about promoted citizen engagement phenomena, while going beyond the segmentation of formal, non-formal and informal learning (Sauro & Zourou, 2019). The contributions will examine a phenomenon which is of growing importance: the momentum of digital citizen movements as spaces for social action, peer learning and co-construction of knowledge, know-how and skills.

Types of anticipated contributions

Research based on empirical data in relation to these movements will occupy a prominent place in this issue. Contributions helping to transform the concepts and notions used to identify the educational gains associated with these phenomena, will also be of major interest.


Bertello, A., Bogers, M. L., & De Bernardi, P. (2021). Open innovation in the face of the COVID‐19 grand challenge: insights from the Pan‐European hackathon ‘EUvsVirus’. R&D Management. (Early view). Doi :

Brougère, G. (2007). Les jeux du formel et de l’informel. Revue française de pédagogie, 160. Doi :

Djambian, C., & Agostinelli, C. (2012). De la métis au e-learning : la médiation du rapport au savoir. Distances et médiations des savoirs, 2. Doi :

Glissant, E. (1997). Traité du Tout-Monde. Paris : Gallimard.

Lampe, C., Resnick, P., Forte, A., Yardi, S., Rotman, D., Marshall, T., & Lutters, W. (2010).

Educational priorities for technology-mediated social participation. Computer, 43(11), 60-67. Doi : 10.1109/MC.2010.316

Lord, G., & Dubreil, S. (Eds.) (2021). Innovation & Creation: The Maker Movement. Special issue, CALICO Journal, 38(1).

Palen, L., Anderson, K. M., Mark, G., Martin, J., Sicker, D., Palmer, M., & Grunwald, D. (2010). A vision for technology-mediated support for public participation & assistance in mass emergencies & disasters. In D. McAuley (Ed.), ACM-BCS Visions of Computer Science, (pp. 1–12). British Computer Society.

Potolia, A., & Derivry-Plard, M. (Eds.), (forthcoming). Virtual Exchange for Intercultural Language Learning and Teaching: Fostering Communication for the Digital Age, UK: Routledge.

Preece, J., & Shneiderman, B. (2009). The Reader-to-Leader Framework: Motivating Technology-Mediated Social Participation. AIS transactions on human-computer interaction, 1(1), 13-32.

Ramasubramanian, S., & Sousa, A. N. (2021). Communication scholar-activism: conceptualizing key dimensions and practices based on interviews with scholar-activists. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 49(5), 477-496.

Sauro, S., & Zourou, K. (2019). What are the digital wilds? Language Learning & Technology, 23(1), 1-7.

Strasser, B., Baudry, J., Mahr, D., Sanchez, G., & Tancoigne, E. (2019). “Citizen Science”? Rethinking Science and Public Participation. Science & Technology Studies, 32(2), 52-76.

Thorne, S. L., & Reinhardt, J. (2008). “Bridging Activities,” New Media Literacies and Advanced Foreign Language Proficiency. CALICO Journal, 25(3), 558-572. Retrieved from:

Tufekci, Z. (2017). Twitter and tear gas. Yale, USA: Yale University Press.

Zourou, K. (2020). Language learning as the agency for a social purpose: examples from the coronavirus pandemic, Alsic, 23(1). Doi:

Instructions to authors

For this issue, we will accept articles in both French and English.

They have to comply with scientific requirements: formulation of research hypotheses, methods followed, references to previous works, contexts (including audiences, institutions, devices, technologies, etc.), results and their perspectives. Articles should be readable by specialists, researchers and experts belonging to the different disciplines targeted by Distance and Knowledge Mediation.

The proposals have to respect the editorial line ( and the format ( requested by the journal. They will be either research articles, generally 20 to 25 pages long, 30,000 to 50,000 characters (including notes and spaces), which meet academic requirements, or feedback from innovative experiences or testimonies, which may be shorter. These articles will be evaluated in double blind by the members of the scientific committee and will be published only after acceptance and possible revisions.

Important dates

  • Abstract submission: June 15, 2022

  • Notification: July 1st, 2022

  • Full paper submission: September 5, 2022

  • Feedback and notification of acceptance or rejection: October, 2022

  • Release of the special issue: first quarter 2023

Abstracts (up to 300words) will be sent to: et

Full papers will be then sent to:

About the coordinators

Katerina ZOUROU, Ph.D, Katerina Zourou, PhD, is a scholar in language learning and teaching from an open perspective (open educational resources and practices) and from a networking and collaboration perspective (collective learning, social networked learning). She is also head of Web2Learn in Greece. She acts as project leader or partner in transnational projects funded by the Council of Europe, the European Commission, and national funds.

Anthippi POTOLIA, Ph.D, is Associate Professor at the University of Paris 8 and member of the Experice research lab (Experiences, Cultural Resources, Education, EA 3971). Her research focuses on the learning of foreign languages in formal and non-formal contexts: online language learning communities, telecollaboration, and distance education. She is also interested in the analysis of media and digital discourse.

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