Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Social Media Political Engagement

I have had these ideas running through my head for nearly a year now but it took Bud Hunt's encouragement to finally get them on the blog. Our politicians have been increasingly utilizing social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to further their political agenda and to gather support for themselves. Many of them also just use these tools for fun. Congress seems particularly engaged on Twitter. It occurred to me last fall when I came across a little iPod app called "MyGovernment" that we might be able to take advantage of this in the classroom.
MyGovernment is a simple directory of US Congress Representatives and US Senators that includes both their email addresses and their Twitter accounts. Watching C-Span we noticed that a lot of Congressmen fiddle with their mobile devices while in session. I decided to have our high school seniors taking US Government to watch C-Span and pay attention to when a congressman picks up their Blackberry or iPhone. They then looked them up on this iPod App and checked their Twitter acco0unt to see if they indeed were actively Tweeting. If they were this became a great opportunity to ask the Congressman questions and potentially actively influence the political debate.

We tried this a couple times and amazingly many of the congressmen tweeted back. What's more, being on television we could tell when we got responses from the politician and when it came from a staffer.

So, what is next? There is incredible potential here for some very authentic and powerful projects. What if we had students research these tweeting congressmen and find out who their influences are? Then, the kids could create Twitter accounts for historical figures the politicians identify as being highly influential (i.e. "I am a Regan republican"). The students could then use these faux accounts to respond to the congressman the way they think these historical figures would have responded. This would serve both as a conscious for the congressman but also will require students to learn deeply about both history and contemporary civics.

What other potential applications does this have for education? What other projects could be done with this?