Ten Questions for the Present

Conducting Case Study

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Grade level: 9 to 12
Activity type: Project 
Period: Multiple sessions 
Related subjects: Government, U.S History

Overview

The efforts of others to make change can teach important lessons about effective participation today. In this case, educators guide young people in identifying and exploring a good case of civic participation. The Ten Questions provides a useful frame for analyzing complex social problems and movements as students conduct their own research. 

Essential Questions

  • Why does this case matter to me? 
  • Who participated and what were their main goals? 
  • How did they achieve the goals?  What strategies and tactics were used? 
  • What counts as success? What can we learn from this case regarding our own civic action? 

Learning Goals 

  • Identify and refine main research questions.
  • Employ various methods of inquiry, including interviews, literature review, survey, and statistics.  
  • Use the Ten Questions framework to explore research questions for the chosen cases.
  • Contemplate the lessons students can elicit from the case regarding their own civic action. 

Activities 

  • Begin with a warm-up conversation with students around social, cultural, and political issues they care about and are interested in exploring.
  • Have students form small groups and discuss the case they want to study. Ask them to engage with Question 1, or why the case matters to them.
    • The case can be any group, organization, or single person.
    • Haves students explain what issues they want to explore and why the case matters to them.
  • Guide students in detailing a general plan about how to investigate their chosen cases using the Ten Questions and the methods they hope to use. Have students submit a research proposal (Assignment 1).   
  • Provide feedback on Assignment 1 so that students may conduct research more effectively.  
  • Allow students to work independently on their project. Have them submit a progress report on “what we have discovered so far” (Assignment 2). 
    • Students briefly share their progress, interesting findings, unresolved issues, on-going agenda, or challenges. 
    • Students calibrate the last step of the project, finalizing the main argument and searching effective presentation methods.
  • Students present their final work in class.  Discuss together what they learned from the cases, what they saw as the cases’ successes (or failures) and why, and what could have been improved. 
  • Have student write an individual reflection note (Assignment 3) and submit it along with a final group project report (Assignment 4).

Materials

  • The materials are mostly determined by students who conduct case study.
  • Mobile phones can be a great tool, as they have various media apps and functions.

Example: "Own Your Knowledge" – Gov94CZ Case Study Project

Gov94CZ (From Voice to Influence: Understanding Citizenship in a Digital Age) was an undergraduate seminar course offered in Harvard’s Department of Government in fall 2016. Students discussed a number of topics related to digital civic agency, including changing communication patterns, policymaking processes, and emerging ethical issues. In the following class project, students chose a case (any group, any organization, or any single person) and investigated it using the Ten Questions framwork. The resulting projects explored cases from all corners of the participatory politics landscape. Here, we spotlight four: VeganismReclaim Harvard LawGet Out To Vote (GOTV), and the Harvard CIVICS Program.

Is Veganism Political? The Frontiers of Participatory Politics

Veganism
Source: Student Presentation Slides
In "Veganism: A Platform for Participatory Politics,” Alice Jeon and Sarah Wu looked at how veganism has gained ground along with the rise of digital technology. Among the discussed topics were how social media played a role in community building, information sharing, and identity formation among vegans and, intriguingly, whether or not veganism is political. Their project pushed Alice and Sarah to delve into the changing notion of participatory politics and what counts as political. This resulted in a interesting and important discussion of the distinctions between intention and perception in civic activism and between means-based vs. ends-based civic groups. Alice and Sarah conclude that understanding veganism and its (non)political character requires an understanding of expanding margins of participatory politics – territory that has largely gone undefined and unclaimed. Read more.

Reclaim HLS: Law Students Respond in the Age of Black Lives Matter.  

Reclaim Harvard Law Strike (Source: CNN)
Source: Student Presentation Slides
In “Reclaim Harvard Law: Students Voices Reshape an Institution,” Gabbi Giotti, Michaela Murrow, and Kailash Sundaram studied the organization of Reclaim Harvard Law, a student movement at Harvard Law School focusing on issues of inclusion and diversity. They argued that Reclaim HLS was a hard-reach group, due to the high sensitivity of their core concerns and the risks involved in advocating for them. Gabbi, Michaela, Kailash focused specifically on how activists were nonetheless able to channel their voice into actual change, by any media necessary. Similarly, they documented the strategies activists used to deal with pushback against their efforts, including both straightforward discrimination and claims to "free speech." Their analysis traced how civic activism can resonate well beyond a movement's immediate aims: Reclaim HLS was never meant to go on a national level, but because of the Harvard brand and the national backdrop of Black Lives Matter, its influence quickly expanded well beyond Harvard Law. In discussing the risks, challenges, and consequences of civic agency, this case study explored the political significance of sacrifice, a virtue that is both necessary for achieving equity and a necessarily a burden for the individuals bearing it. Read more.

Get Out the Vote: Participatory Politics' New Suffrage Movement? 

GOTV: Rock the Vote vs. Mia Familia Vota
Source: Student Presentation Slides
While unglamorous and sometimes frustrating, voting is one of the most important and oldest forms of political participation and remains essential to modern democratic politics. Yet, it is all too often pushed to the sidelines in discussions about participatory politics.  In “A Transmedia Perspective of Voting: How ‘Get Out the Vote’ Organizations Use Online and Offline Strategies to Encourage Participation,” Avika Dua and Jonah Hahn challenged this neglect and argued for placing voting back at the core of participatory politics. In this case study, Avika and Jonah compared two Get Out the Vote (GOTV) organizations––Rock the Vote and Mia Famila Vota. The two organizations originated from different goals for voting and nurtured different organizational visions. Avika and Jonah scrutinized how Rock the Vote and Mia Familia Vota developed different transmedia strategies according to these diverging goals. Avika and Jonah contextualized the groups in the flow dynamics model of discourse, with Rock the Vote representing structural change and Mia Famila Vota representing expressive change. Read more.

Harvard Civics: Teaching Civics as Political Action

Harvard Civics Program
Source: Student Presentation Slides
Teaching students civics provides them with tools for responsible citizenship in a changing political landscape. But civic education goes well beyond formal teachers. Lukas Petry and Carolina Portela-Blanco examined the Harvard CIVICS Program , which places motivated undergraduates in classrooms throughout the Boston area to teach civics and government classes and inspire students to grow into active members of our society. Carolina, a civics teacher in the program herself, and Lukas studied the passion and motivation of undergraduate participants and the challenges they faced teaching young students. Carolina and Lukas frame teaching civics as political action using the Ten Questions. They write, “[Undergraduate volunteers] are not merely talking about the problem of the lack of civic instruction in K-12 schooling and how it affects participation in community, but they are doing something about it. The program takes teachers to the school – it acts upon perceived issues and intends to remedy it through education.” Read more.

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