The goal is for these activities to give students a concrete basis for thinking more deeply and critically about the central concepts, issues and arguments in the course when they meet in seminars or peer study groups, watch lecture videos, write essays, etc. Including tasks like these in your flow of course activities can boost the animation with which students engage the course material and enable them to have a more lively and impactful experience in the course.
In addition, pursuing such opportunities for online civic engagement will doubtless help them see for themselves how digital involvement in public affairs can ‘extend well beyond being a “keyboard warrior” on social media’, as political scientist Elizabeth Bennion (Indiana University South Bend) puts it.
Mapping the political landscape
Students could “map” the political landscape regarding a public issue related to the course material by doing online investigations to create a short list of interest groups and local government agencies involved in the issue. The list could include key information about each organisation’s mission, degree of influence and notable accomplishments.
Virtual public meetings
Students could attend a virtual public meeting of a group or agency, write a paragraph to reflect on what they witness (who speaks, what conflicts arise, how decisions get made) and share their reflections with peer study group members.
Students could volunteer for a charity that works in an area related to the course content, taking advantage of the growing roster of online opportunities being developed by the LSE Volunteer Centre. Students could write a blog to share with the study group or wider audiences.
Online data sources
Students could search online data sources for information about a specific, current example of a general problem being treated in the course, e.g., a local manifestation of racial inequalities in pandemic-related job loss; gendered effects of home schooling during lockdown; air quality measures for cities before, during and after lockdowns; bills before Parliament on NHS funding in current and recent sessions. Students could summarise the information they find and discuss how course readings illuminate, or fail to explain, the data’s significance.
UK Supreme Court
Students could watch an online UK Supreme Court hearing on a case relevant to the course. Students could then write a reflective paragraph (on what points of law and fact were contested, how each side presented its case, what questions the justices asked, and which side seemed to have the more compelling arguments) and share the paragraph with the peer study group.
Online media coverage
Students could examine online media coverage of a topical issue related to the course. Students could then write a reflection on such coverage (what sources cover the issue, how the issue is framed, what are presented as significant facts, who is given legitimacy as a spokesperson, how text and visual/video elements interact), and share the reflection with the peer study group.
Practitioners as guest speakers
Invite a leading non-academic practitioner working on an issue related to your course to talk with students via Zoom about the work this individual does.