Sparking Student Civic Engagement in Online Spaces

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Note: This is part two of A Beginner’s Guide to the Educator’s Role in Engaging Learners in the Democratic Process, a 2-part series about strategies for teaching civic engagement. Part One, Developing and Discussing Diverse Political Views in the Classroom can be viewed here

When given the opportunity to speak, learners usually rise to the challenge of developing a strong voice. But the nature of the invitation, as indicated in part one of this series, must set the tone of such engagement. Educators should introduce learners to how social media can be used as powerful tools in the civic arena. These platforms are not just playgrounds where they connect with friends. Educators can play a key role in co-designing community norms with learners to use platforms like Twitter to take ownership of their roles in the democracy. Josh Chevez’ tweet embodies this sentiment:

As Millennials dive into this challenge with careful deliberation, so too must educators. Designing opportunities that call youth to civic action is not an undertaking to take lightly.

My learners live in what many of them affectionately call “The Bubble." As the nickname suggests, their experiences are somewhat homogenous in the upper middle-class suburb where most of them live. Many have realized the limits of living in such a defined, small community and have appreciated opportunities to learn alongside others to gain another look at various issues. What can I do to encourage my learners to seek diverse perspectives, and how does knowing the needs of my learners shape where learning experiences in civic engagement happen?

1. I will design experiences where learners will interact with others who have diverse political views.

Activities like KQED's Do Now discussions enable my learners to interact with learners from all across the world. My learners have little experience with certain issues like urban violence, for example, so having the opportunity to “talk” to peers in geographic areas where this is a hot topic gives them a better understanding of the world outside of their suburbia. Nick Massaro’s meme speaks to this:



Finding online spaces that invite learners from all across the nation, and even the world, demonstrates to learners the importance of being globally competent. They learn to seek out these spaces, and to value engaging with their peers across diverse contexts.  My learner Taylor Clark’s Zeega beautifully examines the impact of his interactions in Do Now discussions.

2. To find chances to interact with more students, I will network and forge partnerships with other organizations who work towards the development of social action in youth.

It is my responsibility to branch out to find various avenues of more meaningful interaction. Young learners need to feel that we are invested in their education. They need to see educators working towards cooperation beyond the four walls to mirror such far-reaching interaction.

National Writing Project and KQED have teamed up with other key partners such as The New York Times Learning Network, PBS Newshour, and Youth Radio to present Letters to the Next President 2.0 (L2NP 2.0). This initiative supports the multimedia making of messages to the next elected president.


In the ramp-up to the call for "letters" that will launch this July after the party conventions, L2NP 2.0 will provide rich resources for educators to engage their students around election issues.  With a focus on civic discourse, L2NP 2.0 provides support for educators in using various digital tools to create media such as videos, digital posters, annotated texts, infographics, memes, audio podcasts, remixed media, and much more. Throughout the Spring of 2016, L2NP 2.0 will host a series of  webinars and "Media Makes" to equip educators and learners with the skills they will need to compose powerful multimedia "letters" to our future leader.

The Media Makes will help learners hone skills including making short videos about election issues, creating political art, arguing with infographics,  and recording "spoken word" letters. Learners  will also will also have the chance to join in interactive discussions and learn more about candidates, the psychology of voting, the electoral process, and other key political topics. There will be a strong focus on researching and producing media that effectively conveys learners' messages--a pivotal process in fostering youth participatory politics.

Learners will have a unique opportunity to build their knowledge about election issues, and their own political voice. This is not just some worksheet that stays within the confines of the classroom---their work will be viewed by many eyes who truly value youth voices. L2NP 2.0  also gives learners a chance to have access to viewing and participating in the process of the creation of other people’s media. How wonderful to learn new  ideas and have the chance to remix them with their own!

In the end, opportunities like Letters to Next President 2.0 empower young people to become informed and involved in the political process--even if they are still too young to vote. They also get to practice crucial civic skills that will support their growth as responsible, informed voters when they do turn 18. As my learner Blake Deckard points out: