One of the most frequently cited reasons teachers expressed apprehension toward bringing digital media into existing civics curriculum was an unfamiliarity with the digital tools available. The teachers we worked with covered the range of skill levels from folks who recorded and created their own videos to those who didn’t have a social media account. What our project attempted to do was assess everyone’s familiarity and make a list of resources and tools that everyone should learn. These resources and tools are flexible enough that novices and experts should be able to intertwine them throughout their lessons.
Google Drive and Docs
One of the most common tools teachers referenced was getting students familiar with doing work through Google Docs and storing work on Google Drive. Through student’s Gmail accounts, teachers in our program suggested completing assignments through Google Docs allows for multiple students to complete projects at the same time without wasted valuable class time transferring research into essay responses. Docs are modeled on Microsoft Word but can be written and saved in real time from anywhere online. Google also provides similar supports for Microsoft Excel (Google Sheets) and PowerPoint (Google Slides). Additionally, the Google Drive functions was an easy place for teachers to check in on student progress with students sharing on-going projects with teachers. A teacher can view a student’s work and provide feedback on the document itself or monitor progress by checking document updates over time.
Despite not being civic curriculum specific, familiarity with Google Docs is a valuable skill to develop for high school and beyond. Establishing comfort here can help prepare students with projects in and out the classroom. To learn more about Google Docs, Drive, and other applications, visit the Apps Learning Center.
Integrating digital media into your curriculum, both content and teaching style, can lead to a different level of engagement with your students. Using YouTube to find videos to illustrate a centerpiece of a lesson, balance a lecture-centered class with supports for visual learners, or to give context to large issues is a smart way to use digital media. It’s easy to get lost in the large array of content on YouTube but don’t be afraid to use more professional videos from news clips to non-mainstream content. One example is a brief video outlining concerns over voter ID laws from 2014. It comes from a consistent YouTube channel and lays out arguments, data, and can be used to start a lesson on political inclusion/exclusion. Another civics resource supported by PBS Digital Studios provides short videos on various political issues with the expressed purpose of supporting teaching civics in school. Take time to visit some videos and be creative with how you build them into your lesson. It’s a simple resource that can go a long way.
For more advanced or comfortable teachers, using your own camera can give substance to the instructions you give to students. One of our teachers gave a prompt for a final project asking students to work in groups to research a local non-profit that did work on an issue that mattered to members in that group. After distributing the assignment, the teacher played a 7 minute video explaining and showing students how to complete the assignment and suggestions on formatting. Students saw how the teacher wanted them to set up their Google Docs, how to share the document with the teacher, organize research, and highlight tips for conducting online research. The video was not edited and showed the instructor clicking on links that were not helpful. It allowed for a teachable moment, demonstrating that the first links that pop up on a search are not always the ideal for answering the question. Both students and the instructor expressed comfort in proceeding with the assignment. Students could see what the teacher wanted and what to avoid when doing research while the teacher could give support to the instructions provided at the beginning of class.
Social Media Accounts
A simple way to engage students on the platforms they are on is to build a class specific social media presence and ask for contributions. One teacher built a Facebook group for his class and asked a different student everyday to post an article related to the topic of the week or a civics issue the student felt was meaningful. Using this approach can be time consuming as you may need to regulate content and some students may not be registered on the platform you select. That said, it’s a nice method of moving civics to a space that young people frequently engage in.
These four resources are merely a few of the items at your disposal to connect new media to your lessons. What is important is finding tools you are comfortable with and getting an early start in building these tools into what you teach and how you teach it. As with any good tool it should make the user’s job easier so think of places where changes can elevate your points or give students skills they can use beyond a single class period.