Communication revolution has moved from a world connected by telephone (a synchronous and asynchronous) including e-mail, bulletin boards, broadcast messages and chat rooms. As a result, new learning tools have developed to access knowledge.
Active vs. Passive
There is much less tolerance for passive situations such as lectures, and digital natives need and want interactive learning opportunities.
Payoff vs. Patience
The same attributes that keep young people engaged for hours to learn and master a computer game can be tapped to improve the quality of civics education as well; the challenge remains for educators to develop similar interactive rewards dynamics for learning content.
Fantasy vs. Reality
Young learners' lives are pervaded by fantasy elements through television programs and video games; therefore, learning experiences should be structured to include such fantasy elements to be more interesting.
Technology as Friend vs. Tech. As Foe
Digital immigrants" perceive technology as something to be feared and merely tolerated; by contrast, digital natives regard technology as their friend. Young learners today actively search out ways to use technology to construct a new cognitive environment.
Source: Prensky 1998:3.
Notwithstanding these challenges and constraints, though, the nation's high schools are in fact the perfect setting to provide students with democratic citizenship education. According to Parker (2005), "The main reason is that a school is not a private place, like our homes, but a public, civic place with a congregation of diverse students. Some schools are more diverse than others, of course, but all schools are diverse to some meaningful extent" (344). Nevertheless, while there is abundant evidence for the existence of a strong positive relationship between educational attainment and a variety of civic orientations and behaviors, how this process is accomplished in school and the causal connection between formal education and democratic citizenship remain unclear (Lawson & Scott 2002:83). "Taken together," these authors add, "studies reveal that variables related to the formal instruction of civics, such as civic curriculum and teachers' qualifications, yield at best only moderate, and immediate, effects on youngsters' citizenship orientations and knowledge" (Lawson & Scott 83).
Studies have shown time and again that instructional strategies that encourage active student participation in the learning process are more effective in promoting student learning than traditional methods such as lectures alone. According to Hannafin and McDonald (2003), "Many researchers, administrators, teachers, and parents advocate using technology to improve and increase student learning and motivation" (459). Likewise, Freeman (2003) points out that interactive learning opportunities enhance critical thinking and improve student skills; furthermore, interactive learning opportunities serve to increase student's interest thereby reinforcing the content learned as well as its retention. One approach that has proven effective for this purpose is the use of educational games in the classroom, and these initiatives are discussed further below.
The Need for Alternative Civics Educational Curricula.
The review of the literature makes it clear that so-called "digital natives" require different teaching methods than have been used in the past. The need for providing superior alternatives to the traditional pedagogy as they apply to civics instruction is therefore clearly a priority today. For instance, Brown (1996) reports that, "The adage, 'Teachers tend to teach the way they were taught,' haunts me when I know that I daily face students who are the products of numerous expository, sermonizing social studies lessons that bored them to tears" (224). Whatever approach is used, the concept of citizenship remains the same. According to Lawson and Scott (2002), "The concept of citizenship is composed of a number of key elements. These are the notion of participation in public life, the idea that a citizen is one who both governs and is governed, a sense of identity, an acceptance of societal values, and rights and responsibilities" (1).
Communicating this comprehensive concept of what it means to be a citizen in a modern democracy to young people requires a different approach from traditional teaching styles such as lecturing, and many educators have incorporated educational games into their curriculum to take advantage of what their students already know. For instance, Braithwaite and Westbrook (2001) report that, "There is widespread use of simulations, role-plays, software packages, interactive multimedia, and Web-based learning tools in an attempt to deepen and broaden the learning experience. No academic discipline appears to be untouched, with recent reports of applications in fields as diverse as, for example, accounting, strategic management, business administration, economics and welfare work" (89).
Likewise, Jarvis (2002) points out that educational games are typically designed to help young students learn something and educational gaming is, "An educational method in which the students participate in games in order to explore issues of social concern, personal growth, and development. Gaming is one method of motivating reluctant participants in the learning process" (emphasis added) (77). In this regard, Brown (1996) reports incorporating educational games into his high school social studies curriculum to good effect with improved attentiveness and retention of the educational materials being recorded across the board. Likewise, Schwartzman (1997) emphasizes that, "[Educational] games offer an accurate and appropriate description of the educational process. Furthermore, placing education within a gaming framework encourages cooperation, emphasizes excellence, and fosters values that a business-driven view of education omits or downplays" (9).
According to Godwin-Jones (2005), educational games are attracting the interest of educators because computers occupy so much of the time of young people today. Educational gaming authority Jonassen (2004) also notes that, "A key feature of educational games is the opportunity to apply subject matter knowledge in a new context" (576). Because resources are by definition scarce, it is also important for high school teachers to make the most of what is available to maximize the learning opportunities for their students, and educational games provide the perfect vehicle for this. A growing number of online resources and Web sites, for example, provide a wide array of student activities that can be integrated into the high school civics curriculum and instruction. "These include 'virtual field trips,' educational games, and projects -- both individualized and group endeavors -- that can last one day or a full year" (Risinger 2001:155).
The research showed that the need for citizenship education and civics instruction in America's high school classrooms is greater today than ever, but the manner in which students learn has changed in fundamental ways from years past. The research also showed that the educational games designed to impart civics lessons to high school students today need not be complicated, but they must be relevant. To this end, Hannafin and McDonald (2003) designed a civics curriculum that incorporated elements from the popular televisions shows, "Jeopardy" and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" To liven up student interest and participation. Other educators report simply developing educational games based on the available materials at hand, with only their imaginations being a limit on what can be achieved.
Based on the foregoing issues, trends and the potential benefits that can accrue to incorporating educational games in the high school civics classroom, the following recommendations are provided:
Make citizenship education a high priority for all of the nation's public schools at every level;
Provide teachers with additional Web-based civics gaming resources; and,
Encourage active participation by parents in their children's education through community education initiatives targeted at raising awareness of the need for informed citizens in the 21st century.
Beckerman, Marvin, Simon Kim and B. Sue Parks. (1996). "Effects of Participatory Learning Programs in Middle And High School Civic Education," Social Studies, 87:171.
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Freeman, L.A. (2003). "Simulation and Role Playing with LEGO Blocks. Journal of Information Systems Education, 14(2):137-144.
Godwin-Jones, Robert. (2005). "Emerging Technologies: Messaging, Gaming, Peer-to-Peer Sharing Language Learning Strategies & Tools for the Millennial Generation. Language, Learning & Technology, 9(1):17.
Hannafin, Robert D. And Kathleen K. McDonald. (2003). "Using Web-Based Computer Games to Meet the Demands of Today's High-Stakes Testing: A Mixed Method Inquiry." Journal of Research on Technology in Education 35(4):459.
Jarvis, Peter. International Dictionary of Adult and Continuing Education. London: Kogan Page, 2002.
Jonassen, David H. Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004.
Lawson, Helen and David Scott. Citizenship Education and the Curriculum. Westport, CT: Ablex Publishing, 2002.
Paige, Rod. (2003). "Civics Education in America." Phi Delta Kappan 85(1):37.
Parker, Walter C. (2005). "Teaching against Idiocy." Phi Delta Kappan 86(5):344.