The Role of Media Use in the Classroom and at Home in Improving Political Knowledge

33 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2013

See all articles by Timothy Vercellotti

Timothy Vercellotti

Western New England College

Elizabeth Matto

Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University

Date Written: January 25, 2013

Abstract

Concerns regarding levels of political knowledge among America’s younger citizens and their undependable commitment to the political process continue to spur researchers and educators to identify the most effective methods of civic instruction. The recent finding from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for civics that only 24% of twelfth-graders scored proficient suggests that young people are entering college with low levels of political knowledge. Consequently, research and civic interventions at the high school level play a pivotal role in preparing young people for adulthood and active citizenship.

Through an experiment involving 361 students in four high schools in New Jersey as well as the parents of 152 of these students, we measured the effects of systematically incorporating news magazines into social studies curricula on students’ levels of political knowledge. After conducting a baseline survey measuring political knowledge among students, we randomly assigned the students' social studies classes to either: a treatment group assigned to read and discuss articles about politics in a newsweekly magazine in class for eight weeks; a treatment group in which students were assigned to read and discuss the same articles at home with their parents, with the students subsequently also discussing the articles in the classroom; and a control group that did not receive the magazine and did not engage in discussion. We followed up with surveys of the students at the end of the eight-week intervention, and then six weeks later to measure for longer term effects of the experiment.

We found that the combination of reading and discussing news articles in the home and in the classroom positively affected levels of political knowledge for those students not taking honors or advanced courses. This was also the case when taking into account parents’ knowledge of politics. Students outside of the honors and advanced tracks, and whose parents had low levels of knowledge, were most likely to benefit from the intervention. This research not only underlines the importance of such factors as political discussion, news consumption and parental involvement, but it suggests a promising method for boosting levels of political knowledge for those students in greatest need of support. Moreover, it suggests a road map for preparing students to enter college civically literate and inclined to participate in the political process.

Keywords: civic education, media use, political knowledge

Suggested Citation

Vercellotti, Timothy and Matto, Elizabeth, The Role of Media Use in the Classroom and at Home in Improving Political Knowledge (January 25, 2013). 2013 APSA Teaching and Learning Conference Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2207035 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2207035

Timothy Vercellotti

Western New England College ( email )

Springfield, MA 01119
United States

Elizabeth Matto (Contact Author)

Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University ( email )

191 Ryders Lane
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
United States

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