Civic Education at Your Service: Supreme Court Virtual Tours
By Csaba Sukosd | March 26, 2021
As the pandemic continues to prevent field trips to the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center, the Ohio Supreme Court is bringing the experience to students and teachers who can witness the venue in the safety and comfort of their homes.
The Supreme Court's Civic Education Section is conducting virtual tours of the historic building for schools across Ohio. The effort brings to life what thousands of students are learning during their cyber studies.
"We really missed it last year when everything shut down. It's not the same to visit [just] the website. Going and having a virtual visit was very needed," said Katie Guehl, a teacher at Indian Run Elementary in Dublin, who makes a yearly pilgrimage to the Court with her fourth graders.
Under non-COVID circumstances, approximately 13,000 people tour the home of the Supreme Court annually. The majority are students and teachers, and the bulk of those visitors come in the spring.
To help bridge the physical void for sensory and informational experiences, the civic education staff has developed more content and materials, such as lesson plans and videos about cases and the judicial system.
Those works are self-standing as part of any civics curriculum and are complementary resources that provide greater context before a virtual visit.
"This year, for the first time ever, the students had watched so many more videos and done more experiences. So, by the time they got to the tour, they had a better understanding of everything," Guehl said.
Another benefit of the virtual format is that it focuses the senses. With a grandiose building full of eye-popping designs, artwork, and constructions, in-person visitors can quickly get absorbed in the visuals and miss out on the history details delivered by tour guides.
When tours are conducted through videoconference by the Court, the staff controls what the students observe, allowing for a greater match between what's being seen and said.
"Students could take it one item at a time. 'First let's learn about the court system, then let's learn about the building,'" Guehl said.
Along with the procedural details about Ohio's judicial system and the historical background of the building, arguably the tour's most impactful component is the discussion of notable cases, which are displayed in the Visitor Education Center. The nuanced cases, chosen because they are relatable to youth, are a catalyst for building critical thinking skills.
"The biggest thing to come out of the whole thing is their ability to look at two sides of an issue and realize it's not cut and dry," Guehl said. "By the end, a lot of them say they want to become lawyers. They love debate."
Convenience is also crucial these days. Instead of taking weeks or months to organize an in-person tour, the virtual tour scheduling is more flexible, dates can be set in minutes, and the commute will take only seconds from a computer or mobile device.
Guehl utilized that accessibility to coordinate four tours in two days.
"The guides provided us over an hour of content each time. They kept it moving and exciting," she said.