Wake Forest University is helping young people ages 16-24 nationwide use the Internet to learn more about the political process as the university prepares to host the Oct. 11 presidential debate between George W. Bush and Al Gore.
Through a university arrangement with Opinioneering Corp., young people across the United States are participating in an online discussion about campaign issues such as foreign policy and tax reform as the debate and election approach. A group of local citizens has also been selected to participate in a national online survey at Wake Forest during the Oct. 11 debate through a university arrangement with Speakout.com.
Students from more than 70 high schools from Florida to Alaska are participating in another online project about campaign issues using a curriculum created by Wake Forest professors. University students designed the Internet site for the high school project.
Young people find their way to the online projects through links on Wake Forest’s new debate Web site, http://debate.wfu.edu. The university created the site to provide regularly updated information about the debate and about university debate preparations for Wake Forest faculty, staff, students and alumni, as well as the public and the news media. The Wake Forest community has also visited the site to sign-up to volunteer at the debate, and to participate in a possible debate ticket lottery.
The debate Web site also offers to the media university news releases about the debate, a list of faculty experts, downloadable pictures of Wake Forest (including Wait Chapel) and information about hotel accommodations in the Winston-Salem area.
“The debate Web site has proved to be an extremely valuable tool for us as we prepare for the debate,” said Sandra Boyette, vice president for university advancement. “It has given our community and people everywhere a direct connection to the debate activities, while offering opportunities for innovative and educational activities.”
Wake Forest has been nationally recognized for its use of technology since the 1996 launch of a technology initiative that provides all students with IBM laptop computers. The initiative has increased the role of the Internet in the academic curriculum. Yahoo! Internet Life magazine has ranked Wake Forest 19th among America’s “Most Wired” universities and research schools.
In October, Wake Forest will be honored with the 2000 Educause Award for Excellence in Campus Networking. The annual award recognizes the use of strategic, integrated and innovative use of networked technology at higher learning institutions.
Once the university was chosen as a 2000 debate site, plans for related Internet projects began immediately.
“Our two goals are to encourage young people to vote by reaching them through technology, and to enable anyone to experience the debate electronically, including alumni and friends the world over,” said Bob Mills, associate vice president for university advancement.
The SpeakOut.com project will debut online on Oct. 11 during the presidential debate at Wake Forest. Through a link from the university’s debate site, a focus group of local citizens at Wake Forest and young people between the ages of 16 and 24 nationwide will be directed to SpeakOut.com to participate in a real-time national online viewer survey about the presidential debate. Participants will watch the debate on television while viewing the Web site. Using Speakout.com’s new “Ntercept Dial Poll” technology, survey participants will register their views on the debate.
The second youth project launched Sept. 18 through a partnership with Opinioneering Corp. Through a link from the university’s debate site, visitors are meeting a panel of Wake Forest students at Opinioneering.com. The students have developed the topics for online discussion including foreign policy, affirmative action and other election year issues.
Each member of the student panel also posted sets of questions related to each topic listed on the site. Visitors have registered their responses to the questions in an open-ended format designed to draw responses from other viewers. Participants have also read what others have posted and have chosen whether or not to vote in agreement with previous posts.
“We are honored to help Wake Forest students take a centerstage role in this fall’s campaign season,” said Jeff Zucker, chief executive officer of Opinioneering. “These students have created thoughtful questions and are eager to watch as voters from around the nation weighin with their views and ideas.”
This project will remain active until just after the presidential election. Heath Bumgardner, a senior from Freeport, Maine; Sandy Salstrom, a junior from Woodstock, Ga.; and Luke Fedlam, a senior from Jeffersonville, N.Y., lead the student group that is working with Opinioneering Corp.
Based in Dallas, Texas, Opinioneering Corp. uses its “Consensus Builder” technology to allow an audience to communicate on a given topic. Participants can read and vote in support of previously posted opinions, and are able to enter their own ideas.
Business-to-business and business-to-consumer Web sites use this technology to facilitate communication and feedback. The technology is also used on Intranet systems to allow employee communication within companies.
Wake Forest is also using the Internet to host a special program for students in Advanced Placement Government and U.S. History classes at more than 70 high schools nationwide. The students have been studying 12 campaign issues using an online curriculum designed by Wake Forest faculty members.
The nine-week program, “Linking Debatable Issues, the Wake Forest A.P. Electoral Project” began Sept. 5 using a link from the university’s debate Web site. The project’s Web site was designed by Wake Forest junior Trinity Manning of Winston-Salem.
“We’re trying to educate and excite these students about the electoral process so that when they are of voting age, they will be informed, engaged voters,” said Martha Allman, the “Linking Debatable Issues” coordinator.
The high school students completed an online survey about their knowledge of each issue at the beginning of the course, and will be surveyed again at its conclusion. During the program, the students will also participate in several online events including threaded discussions moderated by the university’s faculty. They will also answer weekly polls about their political opinions.
Wake Forest is working with the College Board in carrying out the A.P. project.
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