Academic Skills, Pedagogy, Presentations, Research, teaching, Technology

New Assignment Alert!!!: The Presidency and the Media – A Comparative Analysis

Daguerrotype of the south front of the White House

Image via Wikipedia

Just when I think I’ve got things in order and I’m happy with the trajectory of a unit, I end up dreaming up some new assignment that occupies my evening. Sigh.

Tonight’s antagonist (though not an unwelcome one) is an assignment I developed for my government classes that get them to compare different media portrayal of the same event from White House news sources and from two other newspapers of their choosing. We read about how the White House use of the media evolved over the 20th century, and I thought this would be a nice assignment to get students to examine the nature and extent (or presence at all, perhaps) of media bias, and juxtapose that with official White House portrayals of those events. Moreover, I hope it yields some insights into how the modern presidency uses media — both traditional and social — in a way that is quite distinct from some of its historical predecessors.

For your collective edification, I’ve shared the assignment below:

The Presidency and the Media – A Comparative Analysis


Building off the reading about the media from our text, the goal of this assignment is to explore and analyze the different portrayals of particular topics, events, issues, and the like, from the perspective of the White House press secretary and other official media, and two other newspapers.

As a result of the comparison, you should be able to analyze and dissect the different portrayals of the same issue from the varied sources and then offer an assessment of the significance of those differences in terms of impact on the public and reliability of reporting.


  1. Select a topic that official White House media and other newspapers address. Once you’ve found a topic, post it to either the A Period TodaysMeet discussion group or the B Period TodaysMeet discussion group. Your topic should be clear and specific, and if it isn’t, then I’ll give you that feedback so you can properly refine it before doing further research and analysis of the presentation of that issue.
    1. The TodaysMeet discussion rooms are a venue to ask questions, share resources, get insights from classmates, etc. Please use proper decorum and a scholarly tone in this forum.
  2. Once your topic has been approved, you can then explore that topic on official White House news sources and on TWO other news sources.
    1. White House Briefing Room
    2. Google News — a launching point to find other newspapers; not an end in itself.
  3. Try to find at least two different articles on each subject from the different papers. The goal of this requirement is to get a wider sample that will be more representative of the way each news outlet presents its view of the particular issue, event, topic, etc.
  4. Closely read the article to identify the different perspectives on the topic and consider what interpretation you have about the significance of the difference (or lack thereof) amongst the various sources on the same topic. Work to develop ~3 key points of significance that you can illustrate and support with specific pieces of evidence from the different sources.
  5. Using a Screencast website (Screenr, Screencast-o-Matic, or another), record a narrative of your explanation/argument about these different sources and the significance of their presentations of this topic.
    1. Make sure that you are clear about your sources and their authorship. Remember, this is as vital (if not a more vital) element of a source than the source’s content.
    2. You should use the screencast features to visually highlight particular pieces of evidence, sequence of evidence, etc. and share that with the viewers.
  6. The screencasts can be a maximum of FIVE minutes. Once you’re done with your screencast, which conveys your argument verbally and illustrates it visually, then embed it into your class group on Edmodo (see these instructions for Screenr).

Learning Standards for Evaluation:

  • Student used research and prep time in class effectively and in a focused way.
  • Student developed a clear topic of investigation and got approval for it on the TodaysMeet discussion forum.
  • Student found appropriate and adequate newspaper articles and White House releases from reputable newspapers and from the official White House news outlet.
  • Student developed a clear argument and conveyed it persuasively via the narration on the screencast. The student presented this argument in five minutes or less on the screencast.
  • Student recorded a clear screencast the mentioned the specific details of the sources with the audience via the screencast. Student used the screencast’s visual elements to highlight particular pieces of evidence that supported his or her argument.
  • The student properly embedded his or her screencast to the appropriate class page on Edmodo.

Please share any thoughts or feedback you might have about the design, goals, implementation, missing resources, etc. I haven’t rolled this assignment out yet, so there’s still time to crowdsource this thing up to MacArthur Genius Grant level!

Academic Skills, Geography, Historical Thinking, history, teaching

Backlog Post #1: The Market Revolution, Atlantic Context, and Information Reorganization

While my last post ostensibly was going to open the flood-gates of a number of new posts dealing with what I’ve been working on in my classes, that plan fell through (read: baby + grad school + teaching = neglect in this venue).

Nevertheless, as a way to prompt myself into wrapping up one of this week’s grad school assignments, I thought I’d post a recent assignment I worked through with my U.S. History class.

We’ve been looking at the early nineteenth century and examining some of the traditional narratives about presidents, political parties, and other developments of this era from a variety of historians’ perspectives. Keeping in this trend, we read an article by Seth Rockman about the significance of slavery in the Market Revolution. As the article (link included below) highlighted some of the important transatlantic connections that characterized the Market Revolution and situated the U.S. in a broader context (the leitmotif of my graduate studies at UT-Arlington), I thought I’d challenge my students to explore how Rockman makes these connections in his article by visually representing the phenomena he discusses on a blank map of the Atlantic basin.

Map of the North Atlantic - courtesy of

Not only did this assignment fall into one of my favorite pedagogical strategies of information reorganization, but it also provided an impetus to push the students to read the text more closely before we had our discussion on the reading. Now, before I end up rewriting the assignment in prose, I’ll go ahead and post it below:

Constructing Meaning in the Market Revolution, 1793-1860

Purpose and Learning Objectives:
The goal of this assignment is to get you to practice the skills of identifying arguments, assessing the type of evidence and method a historian uses, and to take that information and reorganize it in a meaningful manner. In particular, this assignment will get you thinking about interconnections and linkages and how those played out in the space of the North Atlantic during the first half of the nineteenth century.


  1. Actively read the Seth Rockman article, “Liberty is Land and Slaves: The Great Contradiction.”
  2. As you read, focus on the author’s a) argument; b) type and use of evidence; and, c) the way in which the author discusses the interconnections and linkages between the different parts of the Atlantic World that developed during the Market Revolution (esp. the years 1793-1860).
  3. Using the included outline map of the North Atlantic world, work to creatively reorganize the information presented in the article onto the map. Use the list of categories below to get yourself thinking about what type of information to include.

Elements/Categories to illustrate visually:

  • Movement of people (slaves, Indians, migrants — internal and external)
  • Movement of goods (manufactured, raw materials, food crops)
  • Transportation networks
  • Important natural features (e.g. rivers, canals, mountains, etc.)
  • Demographic information and links to social hierarchy
  • Important dates marking key developments

CONSIDER: How will you visually distinguish these elements?

There you have it! Fairly short, sweet, and straight-forward. What other strategies or approaches have people used to challenge their students to engage with a text in a more in-depth or different way? What suggestions or ideas do people have about ways to refine or improve an assignment like this?

Academic Skills, Pedagogy, Social Media, teaching, Technology

Building a Collaborative Comparison with Google Docs

Yamacraw Creek Native Americans meet with the ...

Yamacraw Creek Native Americans meet with the Trustee of the colony of Georgia in England, July 1734 - Image via Wikipedia

This past week I had my US History students looking at the variety of developments, economic systems, political arrangements, and connections with Native Americans that took place in the North American English colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries. To prepare for this, the students read background tertiary source overviews about New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas and Georgia from the University of Houston‘s online textbook, Digital History.

Then, with their readings and annotations in hand, I wanted the students to gain a broad understanding of these different colonies, think about the similarities and differences amongst them, and draw some conclusions about the dominant features of colonial life in these varied geographic and cultural contexts.

While I’d ordinarily have students meet in small groups, condense their findings about these colonies in terms of a few different categories (in this case, social and religious context, relations with Native Americans, economic systems, and political structures), present these elements to one another, and draw synthetic conclusions about these pieces of evidence, I realized my grand ambitions outstripped my 45-minute class period.

So, rather than work to get only part way there, I decided to instead seek out a venue where this collection and synthesis of information could take place simultaneously, which would then allow a bit of time at the end for follow-up, and would also provide the students with a comprehensive condensation of this evidence that they could then use for studying later on. Only one venue really seemed obvious to me: Google Docs!

I booked class time in one of the library’s computer labs, set up a Google Doc (as opposed to a spreadsheet or presentation), populated it with a few different tables — one for the comparison of the colonies, one for significant similarities and differences, and one for synthesis of major trends — and then created a shared link for the document and posted it to Edmodo.

When the students came in, I explained what we’d be doing, what the goals were, and then divided them into four different groups, each of which would work to create a comprehensive profile for one of the different colonies based on the categories I’d provided. Using the link from Edmodo was seamless and my first class got right to work.

The one downside I experienced was that each contributor to the document was labeled “Anonymous User ###” rather than their Google username, which many of them had used to log into Google. Nevertheless, it seemed that accessing the document via the publicly shared link meant that they couldn’t attach their contributions to their Google account. As a result of everyone being an “Anonymous User,” it seemed that we were unable to use the “Restore Previous Version” feature as extensively as one could when one is actually logged into the document and it registers a username. This lack of connection with specific usernames meant that when we experienced a slight hiccup and had an accidental deletion of someone’s entry, we couldn’t quickly restore it as that deletion wasn’t attached to a specific user’s account. While I’m not positive that that’s what was going on, that’s my supposition. If anyone knows the actual explanation, I’d love to have some insight.

Nevertheless, the process went pretty smoothly overall, and I managed to take a screencast of the contributions in action. Here it is:

Since I last experimented with a whole class working on Google Docs, it seems like the stability of the website has improved dramatically. Twelve students were able to simultaneously contribute, revise, and read one another’s work without any document crashes or any other catastrophic failures. While I need to remember to warn classes about the dangers of deleting one another’s work (and in general goofing around by highlighting random sections and clicking cursors around wildly, which can lead to accidental deletions of student work), I was pretty pleased with the amount of compilation and writing that the students accomplished in a short class period.

Certainly, I need to continue reiterating that digital academic spaces are just like physical academic spaces, in that all the same rules of decorum, discourse, and respect for one another’s work applies. However, I like finding ways to get students to process material and generate useful products for themselves and for each other in synchronous digital venues that they couldn’t do in the asynchronous classroom environment. While this approach isn’t a silver bullet for all types of material coverage, I think it worked well here and is something I’ll likely visit again (and encourage the students to construct independently amongst themselves) throughout the course of the year.

What experiences do others have in using Google Docs, or other collaborative digital tools, like this or in other ways?

Pedagogy, Social Media, teaching

Got nothing to write? Might as well re-blog yourself.

Ferris Wheel image courtesy of

In perusing through my RSS feed today, I noticed that ProfHacker posted their most recent installment of the Teaching Carnival, which always proves to be an interest overview of the most recent pedagogical blogging.

I was delightfully surprised to discover that my recent post on Crap Detection made the cut and was featured in the section called “The Carnival Midway: Assignments, Teaching Strategies, and Pedagogical Queries.”

Unsurprisingly, the reality of the real world (e.g. not summertime indolence) has caught up with me, so I’ve been relatively quiet on this front with essays, tests, and my own graduate work, but I’ve got some ideas brewing that will hopefully see the light of day soon enough.

In fact, at this point I’ve completed the first official installment of the Crap Detection assignment and have some thoughts on what worked, what needs tweaked, and what other areas I need to emphasize to really drive home my point. In spite of the few shortcomings I experience, I nevertheless think it’s a valuable exercise that pushed my students to consider sources in ways they hadn’t before.

So, thanks again to the ProfHacker folks for featuring my work, and I’ll look forward to perusing the other offerings in the Carnival (with preference given to those that are deep fried…hey, it is Texas State Fair season after all) soon enough.