How to Conduct a We the People Hearing Online

Introduction

We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution simulated congressional hearings are the culminating activity the We the People program. Although hearings are traditionally held in person, COVID-19 has made online hearings a necessity for some schools. How can teachers hold We the People hearings online? This handy guide for teachers will walk you through the process step by step. If you're new to We the People, visit this page to learn what a simulated congressional hearing is and to find the hearing questions, rules, and other documents.

Videos: Vestavia High School and Fishers Junior High School students testify during the 2020 We the People National Finals and Invitational. These videos give you a good idea of what an online We the People hearing is like. Christine Hull served as the facilitator; the judges were GlyptusAnn Grider Jones, Alan Brodman, and Tim Moore for Fishers Junior High School, they placed first in the National Invitational. Judges for Vestavia High School were Mike Miles, Jocelyn Bowman, Francine Engel, and the facilitator was Chris Kenton. To see more hearings videos from this year's competitions visit our youtube page.

Example 1- Vestavia High School

Example 2-Fishers Junior High School

Step 1: The Basics

Holding hearings online requires a lot of preparation, but it doesn't have to be overwhelming. First, decide which videoconferencing platform you'll use. We recommend Zoom because the platform is easy to use and familiar to many people. It also has great security features that allow you to be in control of who has access to your hearings. There are plenty of other platforms to choose from, including Google Meet. Use whichever platform you are comfortable with. This guide will specifically address using Zoom to hold a We the People hearing, but the same principles apply to many platforms; the details will be different.

Step 2: Get Support from Your School's Administration

It's important to get support for conducting hearings online from your school's administration early in the process. Your school or district may have a policy against using certain videoconferencing platforms, such as Zoom, which may require you to obtain a waiver. Your school's administration will also likely require parental consent. Most important, however, is ensuring the safety of your students. You will need to show the administration that you will protect your children from Zoombombing, which is the intrusion of unwanted visitors into your meeting, who then cause various forms of mischief, including hate speech or the display of obscene materials. Children need to be protected from such behavior, but you can greatly reduce the risk of this happening by following the steps listed in Step 4, below. We recommend that you adapt this template to address the issue of Zoombombing with your school's administration.

Step 3: Decide on a Date and Time for Your Hearings

Although in-person simulated congressional hearings can be held on weekends or evenings in order to ensure that parents can attend, it is probably best to hold online hearings during the school day during the times students are normally expected to available to participate in learning activities online. This helps minimize disruption to the students' lives. It is best not to allow parents to join the Zoom hearing. This is because many parents will not be known to you personally, making it difficult to know whether they should be admitted to the hearing room. Be sure to coordinate the date and time of the hearing with your principal or school administration, as well as your volunteers. Invite your principal to attend, which will allow them to see just how valuable We the People is as a learning experience.

Step 4: Set Up Your Hearings in Zoom

How an Online Hearing Works

For most noncompetitive We the People hearings involving just one class divided into six groups, you can set up just one Zoom meeting, which will last a total of three hours. Each unit's hearing lasts 30 minutes. The facilitator and judges will show up at least 20 minutes before the first hearing begins in order to verify that the judges' computer equipment is working, specifically the audio and video. The facilitator then places the judges into a breakout room, where they will not be seen or heard by the students, but where they can speak privately. They will be readmitted once the actual hearing is ready to begin. During the first 10 minutes of the 30-minute unit session, students will enter the waiting room and you or your facilitator will admit them into the hearing room. Make sure you have students' cell phone numbers in case they do not show up at the appropriate time. During the second 10 minutes, the judges will ask the students the question. Students will deliver their prepared remarks, at which point the facilitator starts the timer. Students have 4 minutes to deliver their speeches. At the three-minute mark, the facilitator holds up a sign in front of their computer's camera that says "One Minute." At the conclusion of the four-minute period, the facilitator announces "Time" and holds up a "Time" sign and the students finish speaking. The students then have 6 minutes to answer follow-up questions from the judges. The facilitator follows the same procedure for holding up the "One Minute" and "Time" signs. During the final 10 minutes, the judges give students feedback on their performance, after which the students are asked by the facilitator or teacher to exit the hearing room (that is, to leave the Zoom meeting). The facilitator then places judges into a breakout room, where they compile their scores and prepare for the next batch of students to arrive. Watch this video to see how an online simulated congressional hearing works.

Step 5: Enlist Volunteers to Help You

To conduct an online We the People simulated congressional hearing for your class, you will need a facilitator and at least three judges. Their roles are described here:

Facilitator

The facilitator has three jobs during the hearing: (1) to admit students and guests into the hearing from the waiting room, (2) to serve as the timer during the hearing (see this timer's video), and (3) to monitor the hearing to ensure that everyone behaves appropriately, removing people from the meeting in the unlikely even that this proves necessary. Facilitators need to be comfortable enough with Zoom and with technology in general to help troubleshoot any issues that come in during the hearings themselves. You can also ask your facilitator to meet with each of the judges and check their computer's internet connection, as well as the clarity of the audio and video feed.

Judges

For a noncompetitive hearing for just one class, it is easiest to use just one panel of three judges for the entire three-hour session. Another option is to recruit a total of eighteen judges: three per unit; each panel of judges would enter the hearing room at a predetermined time. You will also need at least one backup judge who is standing by to replace a judge who has a not-easily-solved technical issue. You might enlist an additional volunteer to tally the scores at the end of the hearings.

Scoresheets

Judges can record scores on paper using this score sheet, but it is best to create an electronic scoresheet using Google Forms or JotForm.  Here is a sample form that you can use. It was created using JotForm. To use it, follow these instructions:

  • Create an account in JotForm (there is a free option). 
  • Click on Create Form in the upper lefthand corner of your screen.
  • Click on the Import From button.
  • Click on From a Web Page
  • In the Enter URL box, insert this URL: https://form.jotform.com/201885102831147
  • Click Create Form
  • You will now be able to modify this form to fit the needs of your competition. You can enter the names of your schools and judges, and otherwise alter the form for your competition. 
  • Your form will have its own unique link that you can share with your judges, but before you share the form, be sure to practice filling it out so that you're sure it works the way you expect it to.

Step 6: Practice, Practice, Practice!

Frequent practice leading up to your hearings are probably the single most important factor in ensuring the success of an online simulated congressional hearing. You will want to make sure that your students have internet-connected devices that they can use. This doesn't have to be a computer: even a smartphone will work. Students should practice their prepared speeches, as well as follow-up questions. Ask students to find a quiet room to practice in if possible, but remember that not all students have access to a quiet, private space. You will also need to ensure that the judges know what to do and that their computer equipment is working prior to the competition. You should meet with them at least twice before the competition.

Step 7: Send Out Invitations

As mentioned previously, it is best not to invite parents to join the hearings; instead, plan on recording them and then sharing the links afterward. However, you might invite the principal or other guests, such as members of the school board or city council. Do not post the link or password on any public form. This will help ensure the security of the event.

Step 8: Conduct the Event

The big day has finally arrived, and you are prepared. As the teacher, you will need to make sure each group knows what time they should arrive to the hearing room. Make sure you have student phone numbers in case they do not show up at the appropriate time. Each Zoom meeting has a phone number that participants can use to call in if they can't connect via video. Make sure both the students and judges have this phone number and the meeting password. Finally, prepare for something to go wrong: inevitably, a student, judge, facilitator, or volunteer will have technical difficulties. Ask them to call the meeting phone number if this problem is persistent. Good luck!

Questions?

If you have any questions on how to conduct an online simulated congressional hearing, contact the Center for Civic Education at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


About

CCE LogoThis site is brought to you by the Center for Civic Education. The Center's mission is to promote an enlightened and responsible citizenry committed to democratic principles and actively engaged in the practice of democracy. The Center has reached more than 30 million students and their teachers since 1965. Learn more.

Center for Civic Education

5115 Douglas Fir Road, Suite J
Calabasas, CA 91302

  Phone: (818) 591-9321

  Email: web@civiced.org

  Website: www.civiced.org

© Center for Civic Education