Resource Highlight: National Repository of Online Courses (NROC)

The National Repository of Online Courses (NROC) is a library of online course content for students and faculty in higher education, high school and Advanced Placement. It’s a non-profit project of the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education, an education think tank that is well-funded by competency-based education advocates like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  It also receives funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation and from NROC member institutions.

Hippocampus.org has video presentations and interactive activities called simulations available in history, government, sociology, and economics.  These are openly available, and the content collections come from Chattanooga State University, National Geographic, Dallas Learning Solutions, the Virginia Historical Society, and Tom Christian and Thorp School District.

Marked as “contributor content” are the Statistics course and Religions of the World course.  These are available to NROC members only.

Resource Highlight: USAFacts.org

We’ve posted before about sources of U.S. government data, but there’s a new kid on the block: USAFacts, the brainchild of Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer. The new site takes publicly available data and makes it easier to query.

Endgadget’s review is mostly glowing: “Oh, and perhaps the most important thing: it’s just beautiful, thanks to help from Seattle-based design firm Artefact. True accessibility requires elegance and simplicity, and USAFacts has it.”

Apparently Ballmer found the existing plethora of resources frustrating according to Recode: “There’s no — at least, I couldn’t find an — integrated source of data, because to me integrated is important. If everything is integrated, everything has to add to 100 percent, no numbers can be taken out of context.”  He wanted something like the 10K report that companies file with the SEC, which is a comprehensive summary report of a company’s performance through financial statements.

CNN says he’s already spent $10 million on researchers in Seattle and at the University of Pennsylvania.  Furthermore, Endgadget reports that he’s willing to spend “several million dollars a year” to keep the service up and running — an important consideration when many transparency initiatives wither after the initial burst of enthusiasm and funding.

But TechDirt notes that the site is not without problems:

“The problem with Ballmer’s site is that it’s not properly open. There isn’t (enough) linking back to source data; there aren’t ways to examine how conclusions are reached; you can’t, in most cases, download their data…In many ways, it’s a black box – it tells you what they say the numbers say, but if you want to be certain, you don’t have any way to query the data properly…It’s a useful start, but it’s honestly hard to see it as $10m worth of a start. Three things that would improve it at once: 1) link back to the source material for each dataset; 2) show the working (and any conflicts in the data; 3) make the datasets downloadable in something other than PDF.

We recommend the site as a way of getting your students’ feet wet with data.  For deeper dives, there are more complete sources, where you can also see how the data were generated and download the datasets.


BulbgraphOnOffClicking on “Questions for Thought” in the overview brings up questions to focus poor readers on the section’s content.


Preview WorldView Software’s programs for free at company logohttp://www.worldviewsoftware.com/preview/

PROGRAM UPDATE: Judicial Decision-Making

New for 2017, WorldView Software’s U.S. Government: An Interactive Approach has new resources for learning more about how judges and justices makes decisions.

The overview of Chapter 11: The Judiciary contains a new discussion of the doctrine of originalism, along with ancillary factual and conceptual questions and glossary terms that support learning and assessment:

Screenshot of Chapter 11: The Judiciary
Screenshot of new factual question

BulbgraphOnOffUse a video capture tool like Recap for formative assessment: have students describe the readings in their own words, using the Questions for Thought as prompts.


Preview WorldView Software’s programs for free at company logohttp://www.worldviewsoftware.com/preview/

PROGRAM UPDATE: Presidential Powers

New for 2017, WorldView Software’s U.S. Government: An Interactive Approach has new resources for learning more about the president of the United States.

Chapter 9: The Presidency has a new image with introduction and questions called Graph: Executive Orders, which shows the use of these orders in comparison by president from FDR through Obama:

Screenshot of Graph: Executive Orders

Chapter 9: The Presidency also has an updated overview and revised conceptual questions that reflect President Trump’s use of social media, and new glossary terms (which are linked from their context in the overview).

Screenshot of Chapter 9: The Presidency overview showing linked terms that are defined in the glossary.

BulbgraphOnOffUse our databank of study questions in a polling service such as in Google Classroom to do quick mid-stream assessments.


Preview WorldView Software’s programs for free at company logohttp://www.worldviewsoftware.com/preview/

PROGRAM UPDATE: Evaluating Fake News

New for 2017, WorldView Software’s U.S. Government: An Interactive Approach has resources for learning about how to distinguish real news from fake.

Chapter 5: The Media overview section “Newer Media” has been updated to discuss the propaganda phenomenon, with corresponding factual and conceptual questions for assessment as well as additional vocabulary terms in the glossary.

Screenshot of the updated Chapter 5: The Media.

And that’s not all!  The Tutorial: Social Media has been updated to include information on how to evaluate news articles, including the handy flowchart from the Featured Image for instant appraisal (this updated tutorial is also available in American History II: Reconstruction to the Present).

Finally, the Graph: Primary Sources of News has been updated to show how online news sources overtook other mediums:

Screenshot of the updated Graph: Primary Sources of News

BulbgraphOnOffArt images can be used to discuss the differences between visual and textual sources.


Preview WorldView Software’s programs for free at company logohttp://www.worldviewsoftware.com/preview/

At the Intersection of Math, Geography, and Politics

Which would you rather have, a town council made up of at-large members or a town council made up of representatives from specific districts? The first is where each one is elected by the entire town and the second is where a council member is voted for only by residents in that district. If the answer is the latter, then you need to consider how the districts should be drawn.

That’s the work that Professor Moon Duchin at Tufts University is doing: applying research in the field of metrical geometry on mathematical measures of compactness to the problem of drawing political districts. She says:

People just have the idea that it means the shape shouldn’t be too weird, shouldn’t be too eccentric; it should be a kind of reasonable shape. Lots of people have taken a swing at that over the years. Which definition you choose actually has stakes. It changes what maps are acceptable and what maps aren’t. If you look at the Supreme Court history, what you’ll see is that a lot of times, especially in the ’90s, the court would say, Look, some shapes are obviously too bizarre but we don’t know how to describe the cutoff. How bizarre is too bizarre?

When districts are drawn compactly, they are fair.  When they aren’t you get gerrymandering, as in this example:

map showing two discontiguous areas making up one district
Illinois’ 4th Congressional District, 108th Congress

Learn more about redistricting (also known as reapportionment) in WorldView Software’s U.S. Government Map: Massachusetts 4th Congressional District.

[The featured image is the original cartoon of “The Gerry-Mander”, the political cartoon that led to the coining of the term. The district depicted in the cartoon was created by Massachusetts legislature to favor the incumbent Democratic-Republican party candidates of Governor Elbridge Gerry over the Federalists in 1812. By Elkanah Tisdale (1771-1835) and originally published in the Boston Centinel, 1812.]


BulbgraphOnOffWhen assigning students an internet project, remind them they can refer to the “Internet Research Primer” tutorial for help.


Preview WorldView Software’s programs for free at company logohttp://www.worldviewsoftware.com/preview/

How Landscape Managers Think about Local Landscapes

By conducting qualitative interviews with local staff … we uncovered four different narratives – in other words, storylines – about what Cornwall’s landscapes are, how they are affected by climate change, and how one should adapt to these changes. These four narratives conceptualise the Cornish landscapes as:

  • the region’s basis for economic growth
  • an intermediate result of an ongoing human-environment relationship
  • a mosaic of wildlife and habitats;
  • and a space for production, e.g. of agricultural goods.

By identifying these different narratives, we show that although superficially often understood as one and the same thing, the concept of landscape means very different things to different actors concerned with its management.

Source: How Landscape Managers Think about Local Landscapes

[Such differing conceptions obviously have a great impact on the policy options preferred. Pick a landscape in your area and survey how people feel about it (U.S. Government Project: Conducting a Poll) and how those feelings would impact the uses to which the landscape is put (U.S. Government Project: Environmental Impact Statements).]