CIRCLE’s finds iCivics boosts writing skills

Today, CIRCLE released the results of a randomized experiment using a computer-based teaching module called Drafting Board, from the nonprofit organization iCivics. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor founded iCivics to improve civic education through video games and related products.

Drafting Board is not exactly a game; it’s a computer-based lesson that takes students through the steps of writing an argumentative essay. It includes tools like the Issue Analyzer, the Claim Creator, and the Critic Crusher.

We conducted a study in urban Florida schools, involving 3,700 students. About half were randomly assigned to use Drafting Board; the rest used their regular curricula. Afterwards, every student hand-wrote an additional argumentative essay in the form of a letter to their school newspaper regarding a hypothetical proposal to lengthen the school year. Graduate students at Tufts graded all the papers, blind to whether the students had used Drafting Board or not. Those who had used it scored considerably better on the essays, despite the fact that they had used Drafting Board for only 2-3 sessions, and even though the students in the treatment group happened to be less advantaged than those in the control group.

I consider this study a double win for civic education. First, it establishes the quality of an iCivics’ product, and iCivics is a valuable player in the field. Second, the outcome–writing a persuasive essay on a policy issue–is itself a civic achievement.

Please see please see Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, “Summary of Findings from the Evaluation of iCivics’ Drafting Board Intervention,” CIRCLE Working Paper #76 (2012).

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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