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Wayne Vance
Assistant Director, Center on Congress

Last modified: Thursday, August 2, 2007

Center’s Virtual Congress wins major grant support from CPB’s American History and Civics Initiative

August 2, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) has awarded the Center on Congress at Indiana University a $445,000 grant to support design work on Virtual Congress, an innovative online learning environment that aims to give students an insider's view of representative democracy and help them understand their role as citizens.

"For too long, young people's knowledge of American history and civics has been on the decline," said CPB President and CEO Patricia Harrison. "Public broadcasting is in a unique position, along with our partners, to reach this audience through their cell phones, TVs, iPods, computers or other technologies to deliver meaningful, educational content they will use throughout their lives."

The grant is a component of CPB's American History and Civics Initiative, which calls on public television managers, film makers and content developers -- especially in the high technology and interactive media sector -- to join educators in creating groundbreaking media projects and methods that measurably improve the learning of American history and civics by middle and high school students.

Virtual Congress, an educational multiplayer online role-play game, will function much like the real Congress, with committees, floor action, amendments, back-and-forth discussions, input from constituents and random events that can influence the legislative agenda.

"We are excited about the potential for Virtual Congress to let students experience how Congress really works," said Center Director Lee H. Hamilton. "Combining the online role-play game format with serious and substantive educational content about Congress is a promising new way to get young people engaged and informed."

"Lee Hamilton and the Center on Congress are to be commended for this innovative approach to understanding all of the factors that go into the legislative process at the Congressional level," said Indiana University President Michael McRobbie. "This significant grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in support of the Center's pioneering work to develop civic education tools for a generation of internet-savvy students is an impressive confirmation of the quality of the work Lee and the Center have done up to this point, and it will provide important resources for the further development of this project. Indiana University is proud to be associated with this impressive new tool for understanding Congress."

In Virtual Congress, students from across the country will assume the roles of members of the House and Senate, lobbyists, journalists and constituents. As legislators in this virtual government, they will introduce bills and work to try to move their proposals through the various stages of the legislative process. They will receive opinions and requests from every direction: constituents, colleagues and members of the press. All this will take place in an online world that vividly re-creates the House and Senate floors, committee rooms, legislative offices and public meeting spaces.

Students in Virtual Congress will learn the mechanics of the legislative process, and they also will learn that successful legislating requires listening to different opinions and working out acceptable compromises among multiple viewpoints.

Further, they will learn that the essence of a successful representative democracy is communication. Because electronic communication has become a primary means for students to obtain and exchange information, it is a logical environment for them to practice the tools and rules of American democracy.

The center is conferring with experts in social studies education to ensure that Virtual Congress meets learning objectives, and to get help with curriculum integration plans, outreach to underserved populations, standards-based assessment methods and formative evaluation.

Partners and collaborators in Virtual Congress include public television station WTIU at Indiana University, the National Education Association, the Close Up Foundation, the National Council for the Social Studies and the departments of Telecommunications and Learning Sciences at Indiana University.

Virtual Congress also has received grant support from the MacArthur Foundation, the AT&T Foundation and the Paul Ogle Foundation of Indiana.

About the Center on Congress

The Center on Congress at Indiana University is a non-partisan, educational institution established in 1999 to help improve the public's understanding of Congress and to encourage civic engagement.

The center developed out of Lee Hamilton's recognition during his 34 years in the U.S. House of Representatives that the public should be more familiar with Congress' strengths and weaknesses, its role in our system of government and its impact on the lives of ordinary people every day.

The center seeks to inspire young people and adults to take an active part in revitalizing representative government in America. To that end the center offers an extensive array of civic education resources and activities, including: print publications; Web-based, interactive modules and other online learning tools in English and Spanish; commentaries for newspapers, radio stations, podcasts and a Web log; video and television resources in the classroom; survey research; teacher awards; and seminars, conferences and a lecture series.

For more information, see