A virtual pivot: Year two of Civics Essential ends with online game nights

Civics Essential wrapped up its second year of engagement with four virtual game nights over the past two weeks, in which individuals learned, conversed, and competed in a statewide competition.

The virtual “Jeopardy” events were the result of a pivot initiated just after the declaration of Ohio’s stay-at-home order. Initially, the game nights were to occur at 14 libraries across the state, but Cuyahoga County’s Parma-Snow Library was the only site that would see that plan to fruition.

Karen Voinovich, who served as a member of Fairview Park’s City Council for eight years, says everyone has “the duty to become knowledgeable about our government and to actively participate in it.” That’s why she attended the first game night of the year in the suburbs of Cleveland and why she says she was “pleased and excited” to see the games continue in the midst of COVID-19.

Making that a reality, however, required putting a year’s worth of organizing and planning aside, quickly researching the pros and cons of various digital platforms, and gaining insight and approval from our editorial advisory board, as virtual game nights were not something we had previously considered.

Melissa Kendralla“Having worked with technology in the classroom and remotely, I was really comfortable with that part of the transition,” says Melissa Kendralla, South-Western City School District career and technical teacher, and Ohio Law & Leadership Institute board member. “The challenge for me was believing others would see the same benefit in the virtual format, and that the modifications to the format of selecting categories and typing in answers versus speaking answers would maybe be awkward. I think it was a great outcome on both!”

There’s no denying that COVID-19 has impacted engagement in virtually all aspects of life, and there’s certainly more research to be done, but according to Doug Oplinger, who co-hosted Jeopardy with Kendralla, virtual gaming was a bright spot in what has otherwise been a recently tumultuous digital world.

I think that participating in games about how our communities work helps us see that we're not alone in wanting to cause change that improves life, and despite the tension that we see online and in conversations, there are in fact common interests that bring us together,” he says.

Oplinger, who is the former managing editor of the Akron Beacon Journal, currently serves as project manager for Your Voice Ohio. He hosted “Jeopardy” categories that included topics like “public records” and “civil discourse,” which sparked curiosity from participants like Kathie Wesolowski.

“Can you put that last app into the chat?” Wesolowski asked, referencing the $500 question of “What is Read Across the Doug OplingerAisle?”

It’s an app that automatically diversifies one’s news sources, providing a more thorough take on current issues, and a
 testament to participants’ desire to understand and know more.

“I have a passion for social justice, politics, and civic engagement,” Wesolowski says. “I want to learn more tools for making a difference in government and in the ‘town square’. Now, more than ever, it's incumbent on all of us to be informed, engaged, and take effective action.”

Wesolowski, also from the Cleveland area, attended three of the four game nights and was one of the tournament champions, ultimately securing a $75 Amazon gift card as her prize. Akron’s Laneé Foster joined those ranks, as well.

Other winners included Jordan Berns, Beau Thompson, Bill Reynolds, and Amy Kurlansky, who all received prizes at the $25 level.

For many of the participants, Wesolowski included, the game nights were not only fun, but presented an opportunity for growth.

I found that I didn't know as much as I thought I did and spent the evening learning new things through the game,” Wesolowski says. “I really enjoyed the interaction and the content.”

As a teacher, Kendralla understands that learning is a lifelong process, acknowledging that what we learn in high school doesn’t always stick with us. It’s why she has eagerly committed herself to serving as a host for Civics Essential game nights for the past two years now.

“I really believe that the more informed and knowledgeable members of any community, group, or state are, the better the community will be a support to individual members,” she says.

With that reciprocity comes a feeling of satisfaction about one’s place in society, Oplinger says.

“I've always believed that people want to feel good about their place in their community, and that that good feeling often comes from a job well done — seeing themselves acting in ways that good things do in fact happen,” he says.“More importantly, games like this help us see that most people don't know all the answers, yet we somehow navigate a difficult world. That builds confidence — it helps us realize that even though we often feel uninformed, misinformed or ill-equipped, we have the capacity to learn, to lead, or to be a catalyst for change.”

While we don’t know exactly what our third iteration will look like just yet, we’re excited to bring you another year of stories and opportunities for engagement via Ohio Civics Essential. Whether that will be virtually or in-person is yet to be determined, so stay tuned to find out more. We look forward to seeing you at one of our events in 2021.

Missed out on the virtual game nights? You can play along at home by following the links below:

Night 1

Night 2

Night 3

Night 4

Support for Ohio Civics Essential is provided by a strategic grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation to improve civics knowledge of Ohio adults.

The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the Ohio State Bar Foundation.
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