Technology as Key to Collaborative Civic Engagement
By Samantha Perlman
It is just a two-hour flight between Boston and Toronto, and yet I had never visited Canada until my kickoff as an Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC) Fellow this past September. Little did I know that this experience would not only impact my professional growth, but also change me personally, as I incorporated the more global perspective of the ICC into my work on youth civic engagement in the United States.
I was immediately drawn to the ICC’s mission to “inspire inclusion, create opportunities to connect, and encourage active citizenship.” After graduating from college in 2017, I transitioned into the post-graduate realm of working full time and thought that I needed to have everything figured out. At 23, I was eager to continue learning through the ICC Fellowship, which supports youth empowerment up to age 30. This young professional period is pivotal for experiential development and early career investment as participants gain experiences to ground their passions and identity. Furthermore, the ICC Fellowship provides peer to peer resources that challenged me to innovate and strengthen my leadership skills.
Through this Fellowship, I realized that the difference between college and the professional world is not about whether learning takes place, but rather that the environment in which you learn shifts: from the classroom to the community. Now, I am putting ideas into action rather than studying them in theory. I incorporate active citizenship through my job at Generation Citizen (GC) as the FAO Schwarz Fellow and Senior Program Associate.
It is in the intersection of real-world application and citizenship building that my ICC project sits—a true marriage of GC’s action civics approach with the Fellowship’s investment in youth-led community projects. GC defines action civics as “a student-centered approach in which young people learn about democracy by actively working to address issues in their own communities.”
My project utilizes a collaborative technology platform known as “Padlet” to connect middle and high school students engaging in GC’s civic projects to one another across Boston. In each class, students collectively identify an issue in their community that they want to work on, begin conducting comprehensive and experiential research to hone in on a root cause and develop a policy goal at the local level which they want to address. The second half of the curriculum provides them with the tools to implement an action plan to work towards their policy goal. Through peer collaboration via this project, students grow their skills in communication, teamwork, research, making calls to elected officials, op-ed writing, and more. Further, I am studying students’ use of technology to carry out their civic project, as well as soliciting feedback from a peer classroom on its impact on students’ overall civic efficacy or confidence in their skills. Even more important, I am measuring students’ understanding of coalitions and developing a better understanding of whether they see themselves as part of a movement of young people invested in changing their community rather than individuals operating on their own.
During pivotal stages of the curriculum, students post updates about their class project and then comment on their peer class’ project. This enables students to hear different perspectives and enhances the overall project quality. The skill of collaborative project planning is important as our world becomes increasingly global and technology is at the heart of how we communicate.
I designed my project with input from those most involved in, and impacted by, the work. For example, I worked one-on-one with a teacher to ensure the Padlet design and framework would enhance, rather than hinder, her current class structure and student communication. Without her input, the Padlet platform would be less accessible and may not serve the needs of her students.
Since this is a pilot for GC, I am excited for the measurement and evaluation aspects, where I will assess whether this collaborative technology created a larger sense of community for our students. This fits well with the ICC Fellowship’s emphasis on connecting people through technology, as students in our program step into their full power as youth leaders who can combat community obstacles through collaborative civic action.
A big thank you to the ICC for providing such an immersive and relevant opportunity for global youth to engage with one another in a shared space of curiosity. I have immense gratitude to my stellar group of peer fellows who I was able to deeply connect with at 6 Degrees Toronto this fall. Through the ICC Fellowship, I have magnified my capacity as a youth change agent and am excited to continue pushing the envelope on active citizenship and civic inquiry in Boston.
Samantha Perlman is a 2018–2019 ICC Fellow. For more information on the ICC Fellowship, visit https://www.inclusion.ca/icc-fellowship.
Photo: Institute for Canadian Citizenship / Alyssa Faoro