Digital Civic Learning
When it comes to civic education, educators across the country have entered into a world of new possibilities. As with most things, technology and digital media have transformed what it means to be a citizen in the twenty-first century. The ways youth and other citizens in communities across the country access information, participate in the public sphere, and demonstrate civic skills have changed forever.
Today, more and more people access news instantly on their smart phones through blogs and online newspapers. Today, technology can provide new opportunities to walk in someone else’s shoes anywhere in the world through simulations and then provide opportunities to act on what is learned. For example, in early 2012, the viral KONY 2012 campaign demonstrated to youth and others across the country and world that there are additional ways to discuss and organize important issues through YouTube, Facebook, and other forms of social media. These opportunities give the twenty-first-century citizen a chance to flatten hierarchical structures that have prevented youth and others from participating in the public sphere.
While these trends and opportunities have transformed and improved what it means to be democratic citizens in the twenty-first century, civic education has not. Even with these new opportunities and landscape, civic education often resembles the Ben Stein teacher stereotype in the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” rather than the type of engaged learning opportunities many young people crave.
In order to transform civic education and prepare youth for the demands of the 21st century, the civic education community outlined key practices that engage youth in more active learning experiences. The Guardian of Democracy: The Civic Mission of Schools report outlines these key practices:
- Classroom instruction in civics;
- Discussion of current events and controversial issues;
- Extra-curricular activities; and
- Simulations of democratic processes.
Similarily, recognizing the need to fundamentally change civic education in the twenty-first century, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and others have called for a transformation to civic education to meet the demands youth will face in the future by having more schools embrace the concept of “action civics.” This approach involves providing more engaging and applied civic learning experiences.
To help move the nation toward a more active civics approach, Justice O’Connor and Secretary Duncan have called for schools to make greater use of digital learning and technology. In a joint op-ed, the two write, “Thankfully, the internet can be leveraged to update civics education in the digital age. At its best, the web is much more than just a source of information—it can be a powerful platform for students to exchange and debate ideas about what’s going on in their communities. And it is a vital vehicle for organizing political activities and finding government assistance.”
Below are three areas that bring Secretary Duncan’s and Justice O’Connor’s advice to life: