Civic Education in the Digital Age
How, where, and what did you learn about civic life?
This was the opening question of a workshop titled Redesigning Civic Education for the Digital Age conducted at the Fall 2014 Project Zero Conference in San Francisco. The lively discussion that followed surfaced themes related to participants’ civic education: teacher-led lessons and in person conversations, whether at school, with family, or with religious groups, on the topics of facts about the government and voting were most common. After documenting these themes, attendees discussed the following questions:
1. Do you think your education prepared you to engage civically in today’s digital world?
2. What about the civic education received by students today?
A resounding NO was the consensus.
The workshop members then viewed examples of contemporary youth civic engagement, ranging from the Change.org petition calling for President Obama to address gun violence, to the Twitter hashtag campaign #Bringbackourgirls raising awareness of the Nigerian school girls who were kidnapped by the militant group Boko Haram, to the Harry Potter Alliance call to action Odds in our Favor addressing economic inequality. Attendees brainstormed the features of the opportunities afforded by digital media for civic action: these actions are youth-led, and can involve anyone, anytime, anywhere, on any issue, in a multitude of ways.
The stark contrast between the civic education themes and digital civic opportunities illuminates the challenges facing educators who work with young people and support their civic development.
The workshop described above was a joint effort between our Good Participation (GP) Team at Project Zero and the Educating for Democracy in a Digital Age (EDDA) Team at Mills College. Both teams are part of the Educating for Participatory Politics (EPP) initiative, which explores how digital media are transforming civic and political life and the implications for educators preparing youth for democratic life. As part of the EPP initiative, the Good Participation team has collaborated with Facing History and Ourselves (FHAO), an international educational and professional development organization, on developing curricular materials designed to support youth to develop the knowledge, skills, motivation, and reflective disposition to participate positively in civic life today. We created activities and lessons with a digital orientation that complement FHAO resources centered on the Holocaust and Human Behavior.
In pilot work with these materials, students reflected on their current digital footprint and how they are presenting themselves online. Furthermore, they used online discussion boards to share their ideas on how digital media is being used currently in local, national, and global events (such as in Baltimore and in the Middle East), and they imagined how digital media might have been used in the past (for example, how might social media have been used by different factions in WWII?). Students also planned how to take action on an issue they cared about, leveraging the opportunities afforded by new media. For instance, one group of students decided to tackle the lack of trauma centers in their city neighborhood.
The Good Participation and FHAO teams are planning workshops to introduce these resources to educators. We will be conducting our first mini-course at the Project Zero Classroom summer institute in July 2015. If you are interested in learning more about these resources and upcoming workshops and mini-courses, stay tuned for updates on the Good Project website, Facing History and Ourselves website, and the Educating for Participatory Politics website.