Digital Media as a Civic Engagement Tool

From Women's Empowerment collection, lesson plan 6 of 8

(90-120 minutes + assignments)

Grade level: 9-12, College

Subject areas: Social Studies, Civics, Government, Global Studies, Political Science, Language Arts, World History, Media Studies

Purpose of the lesson: relies heavily on media to deliver its messages and get citizens involved. This presents an interesting opportunity to explore the role of modern media in political/social justice activism. Students examine the overall strategies of, with an emphasis on media and the Internet. They will analyze how these tools work in less developed nations or in areas where media access is limited. In addition, they will evaluate the savvy, resources, skills and support needed to develop effective media outreach. Students will also explore social networking and video as empowerment tools.


Students will:

  • Examine their own digital media usage, including web, video podcasts, etc.
  • Investigate uses and resources for digital advocacy online around the world
  • Analyze use of the Internet as an organizing tool by, and evaluate its impact on the election process in Egypt
  • Design their own web templates and web uses for digital activism


Stating and supporting opinions in class discussions and in writing; analytical reading and viewing; note taking; interpreting information and drawing conclusions; critical thinking; identifying cause and effect; identifying relationships and patterns


  • “Digital Activism” Film Module (can be streamed or ordered on DVD)
  • Computers with Internet access and/or with DVD capability
  • LCD projector or DVD player
  • Flip chart (adhesive backed)/markers, whiteboard/markers or chalkboard/chalk
  • Discussion Guide
  • Quotes
  • Teacher Handout B: Assignment Rubric
  • Teacher Handout C: Organizing Strategies
  • Student Handout D: Digital Technology Survey
  • Student Handout E: “Digital Activism” Note Taking Guide


Use Teacher Handout B: Assignment Rubric to assess students’ digital technology templates. Students should receive the rubric to guide their design.

National Teaching Standards Addressed:

Grades 9-12

National standards from the following organizations were used in developing this lesson plan. See Recommended National Standards for full descriptions of standards employed.

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel)

Center for Civic Education

National Council for the Social Studies

National Center for History in the Schools

National Geographic

National Council for Teachers of English/International Reading Association

North American Association for Environmental Education

Writer: David Maduli

David Maduli is an independent educational consultant who has contributed many curriculum guides and conducted various workshops for PBS programs. He has a master’s in teaching and curriculum from Harvard Graduate School of Education and continues to work as a veteran Bay Area public school language arts and social studies teacher.

Previewing Activity

  1. Thinking about the Internet: Have students read this quote from the whiteboard or projector:

    “The Internet is tailor-made for a populist, insurgent movement. The Internet … is a forward-thinking and forward-moving medium, embracing change, and pushing the envelope of technology and communication”

    — Joe Trippi, 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean’s campaign manager (from his campaign memoir, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised)

    Direct students to write quick responses to these sentence stems:

    • I think Trippi means…
    • I agree/disagree with him because…
    • One example of how the Internet is forward-thinking/moving is…

    Call on students to share their responses.

  2. Digital Technology as a Medium for Social Change: In pairs, have students brainstorm a list of their favorite/frequently used websites. Have them complete Student Handout A: Digital Technology Survey. First, direct them to brainstorm and complete the first three columns of the chart with their partner. Next introduce the Digital Activism Survey 2009 from the website, especially the section “How do you use digital technology in your advocacy work?” Then have them complete the fourth column using ideas and language from the DigiActive survey as well as their own. Discuss as a class using the following guiding questions:

    • Which digital technology tools do you use/visit the most? Describe.
    • What makes a digital technology tool appealing, engaging and interesting?
    • Which digital technology tools have the most potential for activism/advocacy work?
    • When/where have you seen activism/advocacy topics: communities, information, and so on, in digital technology tools?
  3. Provide Background Information on Egypt and Briefly introduce the film Note that the film module will cover a movement in Egypt that was organized after the country’s first multicandidate presidential election in 2005 was marred by various electoral abuses. Emphasize that their movement relied heavily on digital media and digital technology tools (especially video), to organize and promote their cause and disseminate information. Have students read these three sources for additional background information:

    Viewing the Film

  4. Viewing the Film Module: Instruct students to take notes on Student Handout B: “Digital Activism” Film Module Note Taking Guide as they view the “Digital Activism” Film Module, listing any strategies they see the women of using. They should use the names of strategies from eacher Handout C: Organizing Strategies as well as language from the “Digital Activism Survey 2009” from the [ website] (

    Reflecting on the Film

  5. Review and Discuss: Debrief the students on the module and notes by discussing together as a class, using the following guiding questions:

    • What strategies were most effective? Why?
    • How does use video and the Internet? Who do they reach?
    • What impact does have on the issue of “free, fair and regular elections” in Egypt?
    • Do you think the fact that is organized by women influences their strategies? Or influences the impact they have as activists? Are there advantages/disadvantages to their team being led by women?
  6. Checking Out Activism on the Internet: Divide the class in half by counting them off, alternating between ones and twos. Have all the students in group one read the post “Roma rights, social networks, molotov cocktails” from Internet.Artizans, a blog by U.K.-based digital activist Dr. Dan McQuillan. Ask them to investigate the links he gives in the article as well. Have students in group two explore the website, especially the Regions links on the right sidebar, which will allow them to look at grassroots movements in other countries. Ask them:

    • What types of websites and digital tools are being used to promote digital advocacy around the world?
    • How are activists in various countries using the Internet to further their cause?
    • To what extent are these activists effectively able to use digital technologies to build the “populist, insurgent movement,” that Joe Trippi spoke about in the opening quote of this lesson?
  7. Assignment: Group Digital Technology Project: In small groups of 3-4, have students select one (or a few) uses of digital technology for advocacy work (either from the DigiActive survey or using their own ideas), and then design a website, blog, podcast, video or other tool to accomplish that purpose. The student groups should research and make posts linking to websites, videos and other online content they find showing activism using web tools from around the world. It can focus on a particular issue (e.g. homelessness) or a particular region. They can also engage in digital activism by developing plug-ins or auxiliary pages for existing websites (such as YouTube or Twitter) or by linking to existing sites. Additional web resources for ideas and links include Youth Noise, Youth Media Exchange, CarrotMob and Kiva. Students can submit final creations to the first two sites, engage with other students around the world and get feedback on their work.

Students can:

  1. Take a critical look at the use of the Internet for activism. For example, what are the limits and challenges? What are the pros and cons of using the Internet versus more traditional methods of grassroots organizing? How does the “digital divide” play a role?

  2. Research the Obama campaign’s unprecedented use of digital technology and evaluate the effectiveness, possibilities and limitations of this tool.

  3. Research the Egyptian election process now and evaluate the impact that has had since they began in 2005.

  4. Compare and contrast the way activists and/or the government in different countries have used the Internet to generate civic engagement. Look closely at how issues such as access to Internet and technology affects their efforts.

  • Film module: Digital Activism
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