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November 1, 2017
Vol. 75
No. 3

Beyond Textbook Civics / Simulating Media Campaigns

    One of three projects that aim to deepen students' experience of politics in action.

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    Instructional Strategies
      Political and civic actions today occur more often through social media networks and commercial media than on the streets. Civic actors, from members of the Black Lives Matter movement to students working to improve school conditions, use media to make others aware of issues and to persuade, organize, and take action.
      Similarly, traditional government processes commonly illustrated in textbooks, such as drafting and passing legislation, are now done with the assistance of data analysts, polling experts, and media campaigns to persuade supporters. This is the dynamic nature of politics that is largely absent from state standards but greatly important for teachers who are preparing students for democratic citizenship today.
      In light of this sea change, we recently designed a virtual internship simulation called PurpleState as a potential model for preparing secondary students to more effectively act as thoughtful and critical citizens. With this project, our goal is to develop students' critical media literacy, knowledge of the role of politics in media, and core concepts and skills related to democratic citizenship (such as analyzing evidence and deliberating).
      PurpleState places students as interns at a virtual political communications firm. They learn core concepts from PurpleState's Campaign Design Handbook, which includes a series of tasks modeled after how political communications firms typically train interns. Among other skills, students learn how to evaluate political media, interpret and use polling data, apply persuasive techniques, and conduct a media audit. Students collaborate in teams and are supported by online mentors who facilitate their work. The teams use a platform called WorkPro for this simulation, which functions like a standard project management suite, with tools such as email, a shared drive, and chat functions.
      The teams then work to develop a media campaign proposal for a special interest group that supports or opposes a proposed state ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The series of collaborative tasks include researching the issue, identifying the target voting population in the state, and developing a media campaign strategy for reaching and persuading this group. As the teams work, mentors provide real-time support and feedback, including asking interns to revise their work.
      Students also focus on a state-level public policy issue, which allows them to transfer their new expertise to different types of political campaigns and other local issues they care about. For instance, state-level issues might address gun violence, taxes, or policing. In exit interviews, we've found that students can easily translate what they've learned in the simulation to these local issues, especially when we ask them to offer advice to someone who is running for state or local office.
      To continue to ignore the gap between civics education and the changing nature of political action is to further exacerbate the effects of partisanship, a lack of trust in government, and an overreliance on "fake news" as a medium for informed citizenship. With projects like PurpleState, civics education can be authentic, engaging, and relevant to students' academic and civic lives.
      Author's note: We are thankful to the Spencer Foundation's New Civics small grant program for funding this project and to our project partner, The Epistemic Games Group at University of Wisconsin–Madison.

      This article is part of a Special Section on Connected Classrooms in the November 2017 issue of Educational Leadership.

      Three projects that aim to deepen students' experience of politics in action.

      • http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov17/vol75/num03/A-Presidential-Election-Storypath.aspx">A Presidential Election Storypath</LINK> by Margit E. McGuire, Karen Nicholson, and Allan Rand

      • http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov17/vol75/num03/Teaching-the-Confederate-Monument-Controversy.aspx">Teaching the Confederate Monument Controversy</LINK> by Stephanie Teachout Allen

      • Simulating Media Campaigns by Jeremy Stoddard and Mason Rayner

       

      End Notes

      1 For more on PurpleState, see Stoddard, J., Swiecki, Z., & Shaffer, D. W. (in press). Behind the curtain: An epistemic design process for democratic media education simulations. In C. Wright-Maley (Ed.), More like life itself: Simulations as powerful and purposeful social studies. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Press.

      Mason Rayner has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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