Teaching Students to Hear the Other Side: Using Web Design and Election Events to Build Empathy in the Political Science Classroom
by: Leslie Caughell, Virginia Wesleyan University
Research suggests that technology in the political science classroom may enhance student experiences and help instructors achieve their student-learning outcomes. Yet, how technology may foster more empathy for opposing viewpoints—an essential characteristic of deliberative democracy—has received less attention. This article outlines an assignment that required students to use WordPress to construct a campaign website for an opposition candidate and write a paper justifying their content and design choices. After completing this assignment, students demonstrated increased knowledge of the candidates for whom they designed websites. Additionally, they displayed a greater level of confidence in the competence of those candidates and a greater understanding of why the candidates would appeal to certain voters. Students also expressed a belief that the assignment provided a tangible professional skill that they would use in the future, and they indicated that their belief in the demonstrated utility of the assignment made it more enjoyable and engaging. This assignment provides one example of how technology may be used in the political science classroom in a way that facilitates student engagement and democratic citizenship while also helping the instructor to gauge students’ ability to apply course content to contemporary events.