The Digital Civics Toolkit: Helping Students and Teachers Understand Participatory Politics


Off and on, I have shared reports of the work emerging from the Youth and Participatory Politics Research Network, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, which over the past decade has been collaborating to research the political lives of American youth. Across multiple projects, combining quantitative and qualitative research methods, we -- under the leadership of Joe Kahne -- have developed a conceptual framework for understanding "participatory politics" and demonstrating its impact on American society.  My most recent book, written with Sangita Shresthova, Liana Gamber-Thompson, Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, and Arely Zimmerman, By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism, was one of many to emerge from this research network. And at the end of the process, several of the research groups pooled insights and resources to develop a toolkit which translated some of the core findings for classroom deployment. These tools are already being adopted and deployed by numerous classroom teachers. As we move into the new school year, it seems a great opportunity to showcase this intervention on my blog. What follows comes from the three primary architects of this collaboration.

The Digital Civics Toolkit

by Erica Hodgen, Carrie James, and Sangita Shresthova

(Adapted from an Educating for Democracy posting on the Teaching Channel)

The beginning of the school year is often a moment to pause and imagine what new and innovative things we can experiment with next year. Given our interconnected lives and the many urgent and contested issues facing our world today, reconsidering how to prepare our students to participate in democracy and in society seems warranted.

What skills, capacities, and dispositions do your students need to thoughtfully and productively navigate the world around them - and how might you support them in new ways?

Of course, students often have many skills when it comes to using digital platforms and tools. But, they may not feel confident about using digital tools to learn about issues they care about, engage in productive online dialogue, voice their perspectives in powerful ways, and take informed action.

Enter, the Digital Civics Toolkit. This new toolkit is a collection of resources for educators to support youth to explore, recognize, and take seriously the civic potentials of digital life. It draws on the research and work of the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP).

The Digital Civics Toolkit is organized into five distinct modules that each capture a key practice associated with digital civics:

  • Participate -- Students explore their identities and communities, identify civic issues that matter to them, and consider how they might use digital media for civic participation.

  • Investigate -- Students work to understand and analyze civic information online and consider what information they can trust.

  • Dialogue -- Students navigate diverse perspectives and exchange ideas about civic issues in our interconnected world.

  • Voice -- Students consider how, when, and to what end they can create, remix, and otherwise re-purpose content that they share with others in online spaces.

  • Action -- Students consider a broad range of tactics and strategies for acting on civic issues.

  • We invite you to explore the modules and choose the resources that best meet the interests and needs of your students, classroom, and community. Each module contains a conversation starter, several activities, and a closing reflection to support students to synthesize their learnings. If you would like to dig deeper into concepts, there are also links to extension activities. For more information on the ideas in each module, we provide teacher background information with links to articles, blogs, videos, and further resources.

We hope the Digital Civics Toolkit offers you engaging and relevant resources to explore over the summer as you plan and prepare for the coming school year.

Erica Hodgin is the Associate Director of the Civic Engagement Research Group (CERG) at University of California, Riverside. She is also Program Director of the LEADE Initiative working with communities and school districts to ensure all students have access to high-quality civic learning opportunities.

Carrie James is a Research Associate and Principal Investigator at Harvard Project Zero, a Lecturer on Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a recurring faculty member at Project Zero’s institutes for educators. She holds an M.A. (1996) and a Ph.D. (2003) in Sociology from NYU.

Sangita Shresthova is the Director of Research at the Civic Imagination Project -- @CivicPaths -- based at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at University of Southern California. Her work focuses on the intersection between popular culture, performance, new media, politics, and globalization. She is one of the authors of By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism.