DKP Design Studio

Research universities can revitalize K-12 education in the humanities and social sciences—and particularly in ethics and civics. This is achieved through curriculum design, professional development offerings, assessment development, research, and policy development. By partnering with a diverse range of educational sector actors on implementation of high quality K-16+ social studies and civic education, universities can foster youth capacity for agency, reflection, and healthy participation in constitutional democracy and civil society. The DKP Design Studio is showing the way with innovative K-16+ offerings that sustain a rich curriculum supportive of development of youth agency.

The DKP Design studio, housed at Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, works with partners to co-design and implement innovative ethics and civic education curricula, professional development offerings, assessment tools, and policy frameworks. Curricula designed so far include the year-long course “Civic Engagement in Our Democracy” in versions for both Grade 8 and adult learners, Embedded EthiCS modules that introduce ethical reasoning in undergraduate computer science courses, a “Scientific Citizenship” curriculum in higher education, civic action project modules, and numerous one-off courses.

The curricula and modules draw on active learning strategies from project-based learning to video games to simulations to sustained inquiry. The studio also conducts design-based implementation and efficacy research to validate innovations and support scaling up.

Successful ethics education and civic learning simultaneously inspires, enlightens, and empowers. Students need to develop motivation for reflection and participation, attunement to where ethical issues and dilemmas present themselves, an understanding of the workings of constitutional democracy and civic, professional, and civil society roles, and a robust sense of personal agency. Any ethics or civic education curriculum that can meet the significant needs facing education for democracy in conditions of rapid technological change will deliver “deeper learning,” built on mastery of disciplinary content, development of a decision-maker or civic identity integrated with positive social emotional learning (SEL) growth, and acquisition of deliberative and civic skills that can be creatively deployed. These are the overarching goals of DKP curricular design projects.

Current Design Studio Projects:

  • The Democratic Knowledge Project (DKP) has built a strategy for rebuilding civic education, in partnership with teachers and school districts. The content of the DKP’s civics instructional materials and resources seek to scaffold learning and development in five areas: (1) agency; (2) responsibility and trustworthiness; (3) bridging skills; (4) political institutions and history and theory of democracy; and (5) U.S. history and history of American political thought in a global context. In other words, our strategy for civic education bridges agency and capacity-oriented education with content knowledge. We are now piloting a new 8th grade civics course with school districts in Massachusetts, in response to 2018 reforms to the state’s educational standards. The DKP has co-designed this open source year-long Grade 8 Civics Course with the Cambridge Public School District, titled “Civic Engagement in Our Democracy.” Known as the DKP-Cambridge Grade 8 curriculum, it is open source and available to all Massachusetts educators.  
  • Ethics Pedagogy Fellows that partner with faculty to revamp current courses or design new courses that meet the Ethics & Civics requirement for the College’s General Education curriculum and incorporate active-learning projects.
  • The National Ethics Project—a research consortium seeking to improve our understanding of where and how ethics is taught across the University. Our part of the project has yielded three new assessment and evaluation tools: a course identification tool, an instructor learning theory survey, and a student learning theory survey. Preliminary dissemination of this first phase of research has sparked considerable interest. We are now expanding the work through the National Ethics Project to better understand the landscape of ethics education at post-secondary institutions across the country.
  • EdEthics is building a global field of educational ethics, modeled after bioethics, that will offer guidance about novel ethical challenges arising from technological innovation in K-16 education, as well as clarify what is ethically required, permitted, and forbidden in daily educational practice and policy. 
  • Embedded Ethics is a new program that integrates custom-designed ethics modules into a range of courses across the university. This program is an expansion of Embedded EthiCS, a successful collaboration between the faculties of Philosophy and Computer Science at Harvard University that introduces ethics curriculum into existing CS courses.
  • Scientific Citizenship Initiative