Hi everyone,

A few of you have come to our office hours to ask about the concept of “identity” in your first synthesis assignment. It’s a complicated term, but some of you are probably very familiar with it. For those of you who haven’t dealt with it in other classes, here is a short description that should be sufficient for this assignment.

p30919_d_v8_aa-1Identity can and *does* mean a lot of things, but generally it refers to the ways that you perceive yourself and how others perceive you (and these are often closely related to each other). People don’t have a single identity, but many layers of different identities, some of which can seem contradictory. In the past, students have drawn on their sense of global/national/regional/local identity and allegiance, gender, religion, ethnicity/race, interests, values systems/morals, philosophies, personality traits, political leanings or ideas about the role of government, etc. This list is not exhaustive, though!

The prompt brings up the possibility of identity changing either in concert or in contrast to the new context you’re studying in. Changes that bring your identity more in line with the context would be changing “in concert” (for example, having ideas of the role of “the state” (or all the arms of government & quasi-government bodies) become more like Canadians’ views if you study in Canada).

But thinking about the “in contrast” part is also important: Even if the core parts of yourself don’t change, keep in mind that many aspects of identity are relative. Think about terms like “local,” “foreigner,” “really religious,” “liberal,” “conservative,” “loud,” “quiet,” “independent,” “social,” “confident,” “friendly,” etc. All of these descriptions are based on how someone relates to what is considered “average,” but “average” is not a stable category; it is different in different places. (think of the uncle says “‘Normal’ changes every fifty miles.”) So even if there are aspects of how you act and feel that might not change at all, you still need to think about how the ways that you act and feel will affect how you’ll fit in in a new society with different norms.

IdentityJust as an example, someone may have the identity of “the intellectual liberal” in their small rural town in Iowa, but when they come to Madison, there’s a chance they would feel more conservative, less urbane, and identify more with rural lifestyles (this would be “in contrast”). Or maybe they would totally latch onto the dominant Madison culture, for good and/or bad (obviously there is more than one, but hopefully you get the idea).

If you feel like getting even more complicated(!), you can think about how identities are also relational, meaning a single person “performs” or inhabits different identities in different situations and around different people. For example, depending on the setting, a single person can easily inhabit the conflicting identities of daughter, mother, sister, student, teacher, boss, employee; or she might have non-conflicting identities of Latina, female, heterosexual, upper-middle class, foreign-born, well-educated, American, urban, and Catholic that fluctuate between “important” and “not important” at different points of her week. Each of these is bound up with different ideas of the self, perceptions by others, expectations for behaviors, and emotions.

You don’t have to use any of these special terms (relative, relational) in your assignment (and you may have learned different words for the same things in other classes), but hopefully the concepts can help you brainstorm ways to connect yourself to the material presented in the class about the places you will write about.

We hope the above clarifies more than it confuses!

Best, Kris & Rachel

Your first “Local Media around the World” assignment is due on Monday, January 25th. 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. 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.

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

Q: It’s 9:58 pm CDT 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!

CCTV headquarters in Beijing

1600Source: http://oma.eu/projects/cctv-headquarters




Hello everyone!

This is the support blog for Geography 340 (World Regions in Global Context), a 100% online course being offered in the Spring 2016 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 Kris Olds, and I’ll be your instructor for the course. 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.

Here are several updates to get some things moving before term officially starts on Tuesday January 19th.

I. Syllabus & Schedule

12510279_10156337907335234_1715299207821468240_nPlease read the syllabus and schedule very carefully! 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.

Please note that the course starts slowly to help those of you who are taking an online class for the first time to dig around the course site on Learn@UW, sort out the course text issue, read the detailed syllabus, email us with any questions you have, etc., etc.  Geog 340 is newish, but we’ve taught it enough times to know how to reduce stress and anxiety – and starting slow but with clarity re. rolling deadlines that are coming up this week and next is one of the tricks.

II. Website

The course website (which is hosted on Learn@UW) goes live at 8:00 am on Tuesday January 19th. 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. Again, download the syllabus pronto and read it start-to-finish.

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 (the cheapest option, especially if you get the 180 day access version):


an ‘a la Carte’ edition for a binder (cheaper than the paperback version, but more expensive that the online version)


and the standalone book (without MasteringGeography):


We are NOT using 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.

And here is the Amazon.com link to search for the 5th edition of the course text – Amazon offers various versions (including rental to 30 May 2016).

Multiple reserve copies of the 5th edition are available in the College Library and the Geography Library on two-hour loan. This is the cheapest option (free!).

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!

Kris Olds & Rachel Boothby


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