Teaching American Politics: Asynchronous Civic Participation Activity

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Asychronous Civic Participation Activity

Shannon McQueen (West Chester University)
Overview 

Civic engagement is "working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference…through both political and non-political processes."  (Excerpted from Civic Responsibility and Higher Education, edited by Thomas Ehrlich, published by Oryx Press, 2000, Preface, page vi.) However, incorporating civic education activities can be a challenging endeavor due to time costs, coordinating out of class experiences, and lack of familiarity with experiential learning. This can be particularly challenging in online asynchronous spaces.

Students can select one of the following activities, including writing an op-ed, writing a letter to a representative, attending a civic event (town hall, protest, etc.), researching how to register to vote, or volunteering with an organization. To reflect and assess their experience, they subsequently write a reflective piece and complete an “activity wrapper.” This activity is meant to extend civic engagement opportunities for all students, in both in-person and online learning spaces. Ideally, this allows students the ability to ‘practice’ and engage politically in a more “low stakes” manner for both students and educators.

Directions: For this assignment, please choose one of the following activity options. Afterwards, complete a two-page reflective write up about your event.

Activity  Writing Prompt (Respond to the following questions)
OP-ED: What is a policy topic you care deeply about? Write an op-ed and submit it to a local newspaper. Email me a copy of your op-ed, and include the name of the newspaper where you submitted it.  1. Why did you select the issue you wrote about?

2. What effect can op-eds have in the political process? 

3. What was the process like for you writing the op-ed? How did you feel when submitting it? What was challenging? What was easy?

LETTER TO A REPRESENTATIVE: What is a policy topic or issue you care deeply about? Write a letter to a representative (or a government official) who is influential concerning this topic.  Email me a copy of your letter, and confirmation that you submitted it to a representative.  1. How did you determine who your representative is? Who are they? 

2. What effect can letters to representatives have in the political process? 

3. What was the process like for your letter? How did you feel when submitting it? What was challenging? What was easy?

VOLUNTEER: Volunteer with a community organization that serves the community. Volunteer a minimum of 5 hours with this group. Email me documented proof (such as a supervisor letter) of your volunteer time.  1. What does your volunteer work look like? 

2. What is the role of the organization within the community? What need or issue is the group addressing? 

3. How effective was your volunteer work for creating positive change? How could volunteer work (your personal work, or generally) be more effective?

CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVE: What is a policy topic or issue you care deeply about? Figure out who your state, local, or federal representative is and call them. Email me a copy of your phone conversation script and the number you called.  1.How did you figure out who your representative was? Who are they? 

2. What effect can calling your representatives have in the political process?

 3. What was the process like for you to call your representative? How did you feel doing it? What was challenging? What was easy?

CIVIC EVENT: Attend a civic event. Civic events include: town halls or local government meetings, protests, electoral debates, planning meetings, etc. If you have a question about what qualifies, just ask.  1. Describe what the event was, and what occurred. 

2. Why did this event matter? What role does this event play in the American political process? 

3. Do you think your presence at the event was important? Why or why not? 

VOTE: Research how to register to vote. Where would you go to register? What do you have to do before voting? Are there steps or materials you need to bring with you? 1. What are the steps needed to vote? Be as specific as possible. 

2. What did you think of the process? Did you find it difficult? Were there resources for you to easily register? Who is helped in this process, and who is hurt?) 

3. After exploring the process, why do you think younger individuals (18-30) are less likely to vote than older generations? 

ACTIVITY WRAPPER

What activity did you do for your participation activity? Circle one 

  • Write an op-ed 
  • Letter to a representative 
  • Attend a civic event 
  • Register to vote 
  • Volunteer 

What topics, theories, and themes that we covered in class did your civic participation activity relate to?

What was the most difficult element of participating in the civic engagement activity? 

Did your thinking about the civic engagement change after completing the assignment? If it did, describe how it changed. 

Please indicate if the following learning outcome changed after completing the civic engagement activity. The scale is from 1 (meaning no change), and 5 (meaning significantly increased).  

  • Did participating in the civic activity increase your understanding of community needs 
  • Did participating in the civic activity increase your likelihood of future engagement with community/issue/organization? 
  • Did participating in the civic activity increase your understanding of the course? 
  • Did participating in the civic activity increase your general interest in politics? 
  • After completing the civic activity, do you feel you can have a positive impact on the community/issue/organizations? 
  • Did participating in the civic activity increase your likelihood of running for a political office? 
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