Category Archives: Classroom Ideas

Civics Education in (Very Exciting) Practice

I really enjoyed the first day of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Educause conference yesterday. Wish I could have stayed another day!  But I made the most of my time and took in some great sessions. I’ll buck tradition and start with the last session I attended, as it’s the perfect follow-up to the blog post I published Wednesday, The Case for Civic Education.

Session: Making Teaching and Learning Authentic: Engagement through Social Media in Politically Charged Times – James A. Jorstad, Director of Academic Technologies, University of Wisconsin-LaCross

Jorstad says that authentic learning focuses on real world, complex problems and solutions. Taking a look at this video, one of many he posted during the Wisconsin budget protests, I’d say that his choice of subject matter qualifies. One of the main themes repeatedly discussed during my session at the Brookings Institute earlier this week was making government studies more relevant – creating a disposition in students to want to learn about civics. Jorstad is doing just that. What a wonderful way to involve students – taking events happening in their backyards and bringing it into the classroom in real-time.

Jorstad is a regular contributor on CNN’s iReports and during his session he shared several of the videos he took during the 2011 Wisconsin budget protests. He uses his experience to help students understand the power – both positive and negative – of social media; it’s also an opportunity to discuss how to disseminate fact from fiction in new and traditional media.

His videos of the protests, posted on iReports started getting big views very quickly – he estimates 200-300 views every 30 seconds. As the views climbed,  CNN vetted the post. Then his video started showing up on other sites, including Forbes. As the video went “viral” and from iReport to actual news, eventually the attribution was lost (I think it’s like a game of telephone…the farther the video gets from its original posting, the less likely people will include the creator). He noted that attribution is one of the challenges of a social media-driven news report.

Jorstad highlighted some of the comments made on his videos. Many were extremely hostile – another symptom of the lack or ineffectiveness of civics education that was noted in the Brookings panel. In fact, his videos of the protest were often flagged as inappropriate (which, ironically seemed to work against those trying to get the video taken down; Jorstad believes that it actually raised the viewer numbers by making the video “forbidden” for short periods of time). The comments on his video of Jesse Jackson speaking on campus were openly racist. Jorstad decided to leave the comments there, instead of flagging for removal, so he could use them as discussion points in class.

Other notes from the session:

  • He uses media examples as a tool to teach about how to effectively critique news sources. He shared a Fox news report showing “union protest violence” that actually contained footage from an incident in California. Many accept what they see on the news as truth. He uses different news sources to teach students to view media with a critical eye.
  • He had an expert evaluate his videos and his estimate was 200,000 attendees at the protest. Press reported “10s of thousands.” Again a reason to look critically at our media sources.
  • Jorstad shared his videos with students in class and asked students if their mothers would have attended the event. Most said yes – and many said their mothers were at the protests!
  • Jorstad surveyed his students (I believe political science and English classes). Over half identified themselves as Republican, with a strong bent toward the conservative Tea Party. Yet when asked which news network they thought was most biased, Fox was the runaway “winner” while CNN was considered the most impartial.
  • Students seem to realize they may rely too strongly on social media, saying something to the effect of “we know we already have poor interpersonal skills”
  • He encouraged everyone to go to http://ireport.cnn.com/ and submit a story. A great learning experience for anyone!

Jorstad shared this link to resources from his session. I would add links to his iReports page on CNN, and his Learning Space blog.

All and all a great session – and I think any teacher might look to current events and social media as a way to engage students, especially in history, civics and government. I say steal this idea, teachers.   🙂