Dear Class,

Here are a few tips as you get ready for our first Synthesis Assignment, due Monday, September 28th at 10:00 pm CDT. Note that if you scroll down you’ll see a detailed rubric that we’ll be using to grade all five of these assignments.

1) Read the question carefully, and make sure you’re answering what is being asked of you.

For example, the intention of our first assignment is to get you thinking about your identity. The question is not “what would you do in Europe” or “would you enjoy studying abroad in New Zealand”. You may address these things if they help you write about your personal identity, but always make sure that you are answering the question: how would your personal identity change.

Clearly answer each question posed in the prompt.  It is best to use sub-headings (Part A, Part B….).

2) Use course material when relevant, and cite it.

Your written assignments are the only way that you can prove to us that you are actually “attending” (viewing) the video lectures and completing the assigned readings. Because of this, referring to the readings, lectures, podcasts, etc. is a major part of getting a good grade for you answer. We will not be strict about citation format, as long as it’s clear what you’re referring to. If you are directly quoting a text, you MUST indicate the page number.

Here are some examples for how you could refer to the textbook:

In South Asia, tea has become “a catalyst of economic, social and political change” (textbook: 360). [Has direct quote. Need to put page.]

The textbook explains how tea has affected not only the economies of South Asia, but also the social and political landscape. [No direct quote, so no page needed. Clearly tells us that textbook is being used as evidence here.]

Note that many times the articles are written by the same people who give lectures or podcasts. Make clear which you are referring to. You could use parenthetical citations…

(Lewis, n.d.: 3), (Lewis, lecture), (Corbett 2013), (Corbett, lecture)

…or just give the citation in your sentence…

“Lewis’s article explains…”; “However, in Mark Cooper’s podcast we hear that…”

It is perfectly fine and welcomed to personalize your responses by including personal experiences as examples, especially considering the focus of this first prompt.  Keep in mind, however, you still need to show you can intertwine your personal experience with the material learned in the weekly readings, podcasts, lectures, and movies.

2b) Use a variety of course material–not just one source. When possible, put different sources in conversation with each other. Combining sources to form a single idea or argument shows a good understanding of the material and sophisticated thought. We understand that not every single source is useful for every question, and we definitely don’t expect you to use every single source for every question.

3) Be specific, and justify arguments/claims that you make.

This means answering “WHY” and “HOW” questions. If you claim studying abroad in Canada will make you feel more like a North American citizen rather than just an American, tell us WHY. If you claim that living in Europe would “change” how you relate to your country of origin, you need to explain HOW your relationship would change (and, of course, WHY it would change!).

4) You may use outside information, but this is certainly NOT required and we’re not asking you to do this. Completely cite any outside information that you do use (e.g. full name of book, article, full URL…).

Because we’re using these questions partly to gauge how much you are learning from course materials, using outside sources does NOT take the place of using course materials.

5) Try not to exceed 1000 words. If you make sure that every sentence is helping to answer the specific questions answered, this will be easier to do. Not a big deal if you go over a little bit, but if you are way over the limits, put on your editing hat and do some sentence surgery.

Grading Your Assignment

As the syllabus outlines, the Synthesis Assignments forum activities total up to 70% of your final grade (5 x 14%). To help gauge the quality of the response, we will use the following rubric (click to expand):

If you enter your dropbox submission, the rubric scoring will be found there.

Please note, to earn full credit, your response needs to be quite good. This means that it will likely be very difficult to consistently earn 100%. We will be assessing each response individually.

Happy writing!

Kramer & Rachel

Your first “Local Media around the World” assignment is due on Monday, September 14th. The instructions for completing this assignment can be found both on pg 8-9 of the syllabus and on the discussion forum page where you’ll be posting your response. The instructions are fairly straightforward, but here are some additional tips and answers to common questions that might help. This FAQ may be updated as students ask more questions.

A General Note on Reading Foreign Media

Most people are familiar with the biases or general attitudes of the main media outlets of their home countries (for instance, Americans in the course can think of the differences between NPR and Fox News). Keep in mind that the same is true for foreign media sources, so just because you are reading something published in a country doesn’t necessarily mean that it is representative of the dominant views of that country’s population. In fact, it may be especially non-representative if the media source is heavily censored either because a) it is a state-run media source, or b) because the government exercises more control than you might be used to over what non-state entities publish. Lastly, in non-Anglophone countries, English-language media cater to specific audiences, often these are: 1) expatriates (non-locals who live in the country) and 2) local nationals who have above-average education and perhaps different values and worldviews.

These several influences on the media you may be reading–state censorship, state sponsorship, and catering to specialized audiences–doesn’t make your reading less useful. It actually makes it really interesting, and provides you with specific things to look out for and possibly reflect on in your posts. If you’re interested, doing a couple of minutes of background research on a news source–is it run by the government? does it have a reputation for a particular point of view? is it based in a country known for censorship? are the expats in that country mostly aid workers, businessmen, oil and gas employees, politicians…?–can add a lot to your interpretation.

Q: How to I find a media source?

A: You should select an English-language media source so that everyone in the class can read the article that you choose (even though many of you know other languages!). If there is a particular country that interests you in the region, you will likely be able to find a media source by typing (for example) “Hungary English newspaper” into a search engine. For some smaller countries, there may not be any sources obviously available, but it should only take a second to figure this out!

Q: Is [this article that I found] an example of local media?

A: The piece of news that you select must be both: 1) FROM the region we’re studying that week, and 2) ABOUT the region that we’re studying. If you are unclear, double-check to make sure that the source that you have found is actually based in the region. You can often figure this out by going to the source’s “About Us” page or just looking for a Wikipedia page about the source.

Take your time and explore the website of the source you have found. Make sure that the article you choose to write about is ABOUT the region, and make sure that the author is a reporter who works for that source. Sometimes you will see that a website just re-posts news written by a news agency like the Associated Press (AP) or Reuters. See this example from the Times of India. It looks like it is a story from the Indian media, but it was actually written by the Associated Press (based in the US), which you can tell from the little “AP” next to the date under the headline. See another problem? It’s NOT ABOUT INDIA. Usually, if the article is about the same country where the news source is based, then it will be an original article by an employee of that source.

Q: Is [the subject of the article that I picked] a good topic to write about?

A: You are welcome to choose articles about ANYTHING as long as you fulfill the requirements of the assignment. However, keep in mind that a major part of the assignment is being able to contextualize and/or comment on the article using things that you have learned from some of our course materials (interviews, lectures, textbook, articles). Certain topics are definitely easier to do this with than others. By no means are you required to choose articles that directly relate to the lectures or articles. In fact, it’s much more interesting to try to find innovative ways to make legitimate connections between very different topics, but choosing a short, superficial article can make it almost impossible to add good commentary.

Q: What are you looking for in the commentary?

A: The keys to a good commentary are:

  1. You use some aspect of the course materials to react to the article. Maybe the article supports something we saw in our course materials. Maybe they contradict each other. Maybe the course materials give some background information that helps you reinterpret the article. Maybe you can use to course materials to say something about the potential biases or perspective of the author or news source.
  2. The way that you connect the course materials and the article is insightful. Just saying “Nick Lewis talks about New Zealand wine in his lecture and this also talks about New Zealand wine” is not satisfactory. But maybe you could find an article about New Zealand voting for its new flag, and maybe make an original connection between the flag and Nick Lewis’s discussion of New Zealand “branding” itself.

We would really love to hear other insightful reactions even if they don’t pertain directly to the course materials. However, these writing assignments are the ONLY way that you can prove to us that you are consuming all of the course materials that are assigned. That is why it is so important to us that you reference them

Q: Do I have to connect my article to the lecture?

In the media commentaries you definitely do not have to cite all of the course materials for the region or any one in particular. It’s fine to just choose one to refer to (textbook, academic article, lecture, audio interview, or film). Note that we have different expectations for the synthesis assignments, where it is important to synthesize most, if not all, of the course materials.

Q: How are our media commentaries graded?

A: You will receive 0-10 points for each media commentary. It will not be too difficult to get a pretty good score if you do everything that is asked of you, but 10-point scores are reserved for only the most thoughtful and insightful assignments. Here is a very general sense of what the scores represent (though reasons for each individual score will vary!):

  • 4-6 points: You wrote something and posted it, but it did not meet basic assignment guidelines (e.g. not  a local news source).
  • 7-8 points: Met the most basic guidelines, but level of detail, care, or insight was lacking (e.g. not well-connected to course material, summary and commentary not well-developed, hastily written with grammar or punctuation errors).
  • 9 points: A solid assignment with all components completed. Commentary was clearly connected to course materials, with moderate original analysis and insight.
  • 10 points: Same as 9 points, but commentary showed original critical thinking and insightful connections.

You will lose 0.5 points (5%) per day for late assignments.

Q: Wait, I’m confused. Are we supposed to post these in the Discussion Forum or put these in the Dropbox?

A: BOTH! You must post in the Discussion Forum so that your classmates can read and comment on your media commentaries. Just paste the text of your answer in the forum. Don’t attach a file there.

You must put a file (.docx, .doc, .pdf, or .rtf) in the Dropbox so that we can grade your assignment and make sure your points get into the electronic grading system.

You must post in both of these places before the due date/time to avoid late penalties.

Q: Should we reply/comment on our groupmates’ discussion posts?

A: That would be great, but it’s totally up to you! You get a lot more out of classes when you can interact with your classmates about the material. That’s really hard to do in an online class, but we hope you will give it a try. Please read your classmates’ posts and respond in a thoughtful substantive way (even if it’s just a couple of sentences) if you feel compelled. In addition to such conversations being interesting, you may also earn extra credit points at the end of the semester based on your active participation in the forums beyond just writing the required assignments

If you enrolled in the course after the semester had started, you likely missed some important e-mails that we sent out to the class list. Here I will copy the important sections of those e-mails in digest form, starting with the earliest.

8/24/2015 – Welcome to GEOG 340!
Hi Geography 340,

Welcome to the course! I thought I’d get in touch with all of you before the semester starts and tell you a little bit about this course since online classes can be sort of mysterious. Some of this information will be repeated once the class officially begins.

I’m Kramer, and I’ll be your ‘lecturer’ for the semester. Since there are no in-person lectures, this actually just means that I am the lead instructor of the course. As you should hopefully be well-aware, our course this semester is entirely online. The course is administered through a website hosted on Learn@UW, and our site should be activated the morning of September 2nd, the first day of the semester.

Because our class will never meet face-to-face it is IMPERATIVE that you all keep on top of all correspondence and informational documents that are sent out by me or Rachel Boothby, your TA. The first of these are the course syllabus and course schedule PDFs, which I have attached to this e-mail. Later on, you can also find them on the Learn@UW site and blog for constant access. The syllabus is long, but it contains very important information, and you should review it thoroughly and keep it handy to refer back to. I strongly encourage you to record all writing assignment deadlines from the course schedule (listed in the far right column) in your calendars/planners right now. Because this online class format offers you considerable flexibility when you complete assignments, it requires a lot of individual responsibility for time management.

The reading/viewing/listening assignments start our very first week, and you have a VERY short writing assignment—as in 5-10 minutes of work—due by 10pm Central Time on that first Friday, Sept 4th. (All assignments for the course will be due at 10pm Madison time. If you are not in Madison this semester, you should figure out the time difference now to make sure that you do not incur late penalties!)

There is a required course text, and you can find information about acquiring it via this page on our course blog:

As an act of immeasurable kindness to those of you still working to acquire the text, we will post the required chapters for the first two weeks on the Learn@UW site. For copyright reasons we cannot post additional chapters, but the textbook is on reserve at both College Library and the Geography Library (2nd Floor, Science Hall).

You will learn more about me and Rachel in our intro videos on the Week 1 page of the course website. Please feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions, and do not hesitate come see us during office hours (we can arrange Skype meetings if you’re out of town!). Office hours are listed in the syllabus and on the course website. Very importantly: Make sure you send ALL course-related e-mails to both me and Rachel (

We look forward to working with you this semester!


9/1/2015 – Class starts TOMORROW!

Hi GEOG 340,

Starting tomorrow morning, you will have access to our course website at Learn@UW. When you get to the welcome page on that website you will see links to the left in the green column. Feel free to explore, but for now the most important ones are “Syllabus” and “Course Materials by Region.”

The syllabus was sent out via e-mail recently, but if you registered recently or misplaced that copy, you can always find it there.

Course Materials by Region takes you to everything you need to watch, listen to, and read (besides the textbook). You’ll see that for Week 1 we have BOTH a short introduction unit and the US/Canada region. If you don’t finish the US/Canada materials in this short week, that’s fine, but you will be responsible for that information for the written assignment due in Week 4.

This first week there are no course material-related assignments, but you do have to write a “discussion post” introducing yourself to the 15-20 people in your “group.” The course itself has about 170 students, but you will just be interacting online with a small subset of them. Directions for making a discussion post can be found at at the bottom of the Introduction to the Course page (Course Materials by Region > Introduction to the Course). This is due by Friday night (Sept 4th), but you can do it as soon as you want.


9/7/2015 – Week 2 Check-In

Hi everyone,

Happy Labor Day, and happy beginning of Week 2 of the course! Please remember that it is very important to read all of our class e-mails carefully, as they are the only way that we can communicate with you.

It has been great to “get to know” many of you through your class introductions this week. And nice to see the folks in Group 2 taking the time to interact with each other on the discussion boards; I encourage you all to do the same! As you perhaps take today off, I wanted to send out an e-mail to set you up for this week’s assignments pertaining to Europe.


Since today is a national holiday, Rachel will obviously not be holding office hours today. However, if you would like to meet with her later in the week, please feel free to get in touch with her to set up an appointment. This week I will be holding my normal office hours from 1-3 on Tuesday and Wednesday in Science Hall 460.


Europe is one of a handful of regions for which we have assigned a film. This week’s film–L’Auberge Espagnol–is an entertaining feature film (not an academic documentary!) about studying abroad in Europe. Please be aware that it is rated R for language and sexual content. We understand that some students have personal or religious objections to watching the film. Please let me know by e-mail if this is the case for you.


Your first substantive writing assignment is a media commentary for Europe. I have mistakenly written to some of you that it is due on Friday, but it is due by 10pm CDT on Monday, September 14th. Instructions for media assignments can be found on pages 8-9 of the course syllabus and in the Discussion Forum on the Learn@UW website. I have also written a Media Commentary FAQ blog post that gives some more guidance and information about grading.



Hello everyone!

This is the support blog for Geography 340 (World Regions in Global Context), a 100% online course being offered in the Fall 2015 term. We will use this blog to update you off and on, but most of the substantive course content is accessed via Learn@UW.

My name is Kramer Gillin, and I’ll be your instructor for the course. You can just call me Kramer. Your TA is Rachel Boothby. Once the semester starts and you gain access to the course website, you’ll get to know us a bit better from our video introductions. In the meantime, you can read our short bios in the course syllabus (see link below).

Here are several updates to get some things moving before term officially starts on Wednesday, September 2nd.

I. Syllabus & Schedule

Please read the syllabus and schedule very carefully before the semester starts! Because we don’t have a first day of class in person where we can go over the course format and policies, this syllabus is very long. Maybe think of it as a course guidebook.

II. Website

The course website (which is hosted on Learn@UW) goes live at 8:00 am on September 2nd. You will need access to a computer to read, watch, and listen to the course content (apart from the textbook), and to engage in discussion forums, etc. We also make ample use of ‘drop boxes’ on the site so you can uploading written exercises on it.

III. Textbook

The course text this term will be:

We are using the 5th edition so please acquire a copy of it and not the 4th edition. Textbook options include fully online:

An ‘a la Carte’ edition for a binder:

and the standalone book (without MasteringGeography):

The University Bookstore by Memorial Library typically sources copies of the paperback version and the three-ring-binder (a la Carte) version of the 5th edition.  You can buy or rent either of these versions from the bookstore. Multiple reserve copies of the 5th edition are available in the College Library and the Geography Library on two-hour loan.

Please note that the assigned textbook is required reading and you will be spending a lot of time with it so please ensure that you are satisfied with the format you are considering.

Welcome to the class!

Kramer Gillin & Rachel Boothby


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