Civic Engagement and Design: Connecting Students with the Local Community

By Karen Schrier

College and high school students are generally considered to be one of the least civically engaged populations. For instance, they report lower voting rates, less participation in civic meetings or town hall events, and may not be as engaged in their local communities, such as through volunteer work.

In this short talk, I describe one possible intervention to support greater civic engagement, civic interest, and civic awareness by college students. This intervention involves working with students to connect with local non-profits to support their needs through design. Students work in teams on “design-based” projects, where they create documentation and prototypes for an application, website or game that fits the needs, audience, and goals of a particular non-profit in the local community.

In this talk, I share the specific process used for the design project, as well as the materials, guidelines, tasks and assessments used. I outline the problems and pitfalls that were experienced by students and real-world non-profit “clients,” and possible issues to consider before connecting students with outside organizations. I also discuss the importance of and connection among design thinking and civic engagement, and the ways that co-creation can help students more fully understand the needs of the local community.

As part of the talk, I will first introduce participants to the concepts of design thinking and civic engagement and potential interrelationships. Next, I will describe my particular intervention with college students, which involves co-creating applications and websites for local “real-world” non-profit “clients,” and the process, materials and assessments involved in this. Finally, I will walk participants through a “mock” design thinking exercise to put into practice the process of creating an application, and brainstorm with the participants possible issues and solutions with this type of intervention.

Participants can expect to receive an innovative approach to teaching civic engagement that can be incorporated into their own teaching, and will also receive sample materials (such as assignments, tasks, assessments, rubrics) that can be used in their own classrooms and educational venues. Finally, participants will receive a list of tools and software that can be used in this type of intervention/course and the pros and cons of each.

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