The instructions for completing this assignment can be found both on pages 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 has been updated as students ask more questions, as well as after grading the first two contributions.
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:
- 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.
- 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. Provide some relevant detail regarding the specific content in the course materials that your media story connects too – it’s not enough to say “the article reminded me of a key message in Chapter 12”. What part of Chapter 12, and in which specific ways did that section link in to your media commentary?
- Keep in mind Bloom’s Taxonomy and attempt to shift from recalling facts and basic concepts in the latter part of your response to the analysis and evaluation levels. And spend enough time/space on the analysis component of your commentary. It’s hard to demonstrate what you are learning if you just describe and/or assert vs explore in a little detail.
- Try and convey your interest in, and enthusiasm about, the topic you are exploring. In other words, don’t just communicate you’re ‘going through the motions.’ This point relates back to one above – you can choose articles about ANYTHING as long as you fulfill the requirements of the assignment. Choose a media story about a topic you are curious and passionate about.
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. This said, please make sure you do refer to at least one source from the class in your response (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, analysis, and evaluation.
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. Note, however, if you forgot or had upload problems, you can upload anytime…ALWAYS go back and upload the same text as what you posted in the discussion forum as we cannot give you a grade if it is not in a Dropbox (given the way grade recording works, technologically, in Learn@UW).
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
Q: It’s 9:58 pm CDT on the due date and I’m freaking out and am wondering should I post before 10:00 pm or give up or post a little late (say 11:00 pm) or if I’m exhausted should I just sleep and post in the morning when I wake up and have the extra energy and fresh set of eyes (and a cuppa tea or coffee booster rocket)? Help!!
A: These are target deadlines and they matter, of course, but preserve your mental health and post in the next hour (10-11 pm) or in the morning…i.e., no staying up all night or falling asleep at the desk and waking up with neck-strain! It’s very important to plan your time, effectively, and meet deadlines (when you graduate your boss won’t be very understanding, trust us, if you miss deadlines) but university life has a lot of pressure associated with it so keep healthy (mental health included). And if you feel like you keep missing deadlines due to bad planning, come and see us and talk about the challenges you face and we’ll brainstorm some good best practices. We’re here to help you, OK!
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