Co-Design A Civic Learning Course

This 1-3 hour workshop invites high school students to develop civics coursework for their school built around specific civic technologies that already exist.
Andover Students at the Center for Civic MediaAndover Students at the Center for Civic Media
Andover Students from high school students’ visit to the MIT Center for Civic Media, photos by Alex Anderlik
Goals and Values
What were your activity’s community goals? (could be as simple as getting participants to show up, or demonstrate the value of collective creativity, or a particular goal for impacting your community)
For the participating students , the goal was to think about ways to incorporate civic technologies like those built at the MIT Center for Civic Media in coursework at their high school. For the Center for Civic Media, our goal was to generate some example curricula around the Center’s projects.
What do individual participants get out of the activity? 
  • Learn about new civic tools from the Center for Civic Media
  • Experience with a design sprint / rapid prototyping
  • Ideas for using civic technology at their school
  • Brainstorm projects that might evolve into final projects for a class on “Hacking Education”
What You Need For This Activity
Who can participate?: high school students
What resources are necessary? Meeting room, paper (ideally big pads like the Post-It Easel Pads), markers, way to present civic technology tools (laptop and projector perhaps?)
What kind of mentors/facilitators with what skills does it require? One or more facilitator with experience in running a design sprint / rapid prototyping or design thinking session
How long does it take? 1-3 hours
Describe the places and social context this project is amenable to: Students and their school should have the ability to actually use the technologies in coursework so that the resulting ideas for classes and curricula can be implemented.
How to Do This Activity
The workshop was organized after we were contacted by a teacher at Phillips Andover School who wanted to bring his “Hacking Education” class to the MIT Media Lab. We do a lot of rapid prototyping / design thinking workshops at the Center for Civic Media with different groups focusing on different problems. We were interested in putting some of the tools we had built in front of students and teachers to see how they might incorporate them into civic learning experiences at their school.
There was no recruitment for our workshop since the students were coming to our space and we were simply creating a workshop around their visit.
We presented three civic technologies created at the Center for Civic Media that were at an advanced enough state to be adopted for education use:
1) Grassroots Mapping:
2) NewsJack:
3) Action Path:
After short presentations of the tools, we split the students into three equal teams each with a different non-high school student mentor who was in the workshop. The design challenge was: “Design a class that uses one of these civic technologies.” This was meant to be for a single class session, though many student teams created semester-long courses. The explicit components each class outline was expected to have were:
  • Context: how does the lesson connect to other themes of a civics class?
  • Activity: how do you use the technology? how do you connect it to the students’ reality? how do you make it engaging?
  • Takeaway: what do you want people to gain—knowledge, skills, both?
The teams had 15 minutes to brainstorm their idea. We would have given them much longer, more like 45 minutes, if we had the time. After 15 minutes each group had 5 minutes to present their ideas to the other groups. This was key as sharing ideas was important part of the process with questions and answers from the other students enriching the projects.
I had intended to video-tape the pitches of their projects, but had forgotten a camera. This is an additional nice output from workshops I had done previously—something at the Center and they as students can point to later when sharing what they had done that day.
Each group did have one or more pages from a Post-It Flipchart in which they outlined and/or diagrammed their class ideas. This have been saved and in some cases students took photographs on their cell phones to document the outputs for themselves. Another round of documentation should have been done to transcribe their work to a more permanent place online. This needs to be negotiated with the students though in a format that is accessible and useful to them.
Some of the students documented their own experiences on Twitter and Google+. And I created a summary blog post documenting the workshop and its outputs. As mentioned earlier, ideally videos should have been recorded for each pitch session. Time and resources permitting this would be a better way to share what was created. 
Post-Activity Follow-up
Students were given contact information for Center for Civic Media personnel connected to each of the civic technologies presented if they wanted to pursue their course ideas as final projects for their class or even as proposed classes at their school. I have had an ongoing conversation with at least one of the participants who continues to be interested in civic technologies. And it’s this kind of bond-building was an intended goal of the workshop!
Background and Context
Who are you, and what does your organization do? (feel free to use your stock org bio)
Erhardt Graeff is a PhD Student at the Center for Civic Media, MIT Media Lab, who work hand in hand with diverse communities to collaboratively create, design, deploy, and assess civic media tools and practices. Website:
Links to further resources: 


Posted in Citizen Monitoring, Learning What is Civic?, Media-Making, Sensors, Youth Designed