Gerrymandering Academy

Gerrymandering Academy (GMA) is a project under development by FDPA (Fair Districts PA), a non-partisan, all-volunteer group dedicated to amending the Pennsylvania Constitution in order to eliminate gerrymandering (GM) in the Commonwealth by establishing an independent commission tasked with redistricting legislative and congressional districts following the decennial US Census.

While FDPA works strictly in Pennsylvania, we realize the national scope of GM and the benefits of collaborating with citizens throughout the US. Therefore it is our intention to develop GMA courses that inform and educate about the means of eliminating GM nationwide. The purpose of this blog entry is to explain how anyone interested in this effort can get involved.

Joe McLaughlin (jfmclaugh at gmail.com) the project leader: I’m a retired secondary public school physics teacher, so I have a bit of tech ability, and I have taken a number of online courses over the years, although I’ve never written one, nor administered an online school. I’m also a public speaker for FDPA, so I’m reasonably knowledgeable about GM, although I claim no expertise beyond the generalities. If someone steps forward who has experience administering an online school, I would be happy to share the leadership role.

Moodle: If you have taken any online courses, especially at the university level, you may be familiar with Blackboard. We use Moodle instead for 2 reasons: it’s open source, and therefore free, compared to big $$ for BB, and it’s considered by many to be at least as good as BB. But like so much of the digital world, it’s a challenging to learn. These are referred to as Learning Management Systems (See LMS in Wikipedia)

Collaboration: We seek help and collaboration particularly administering the school and writing/teaching courses. The school will serve 2 kinds of participants on a national level:
The first is a public component, the first course of which I have already begun to write, “Gerrymandering 101”. This course will be free and open with self-enrollment and self-evaluation- in other words, no teacher will be involved, it’s on auto-pilot- the toughest kind of course to write because you don’t want it to crash and lose participants. In order to sustain interest, we want the course to be “snappy”, interjecting humor and graphics/videos where possible. An example of excellent use of video is “The Value of Coffee” offered by The Open University. Unfortunately, so far I haven’t been able to find much video available and suitable for use in the course. The vid “Gerrymandering“, for instance, has been mentioned as a possibility, but it has poor production value, the sound track in particular. In addition, I emailed Snagfilms to ask for permission to use it but have heard nothing back.

The main part would be directed to volunteers who are interested in working with us on the gerrymandering problem. Two courses we are exploring are advocacy and mapping. These more technical and detailed courses may involve teachers’ active participation (as opposed to the self-directed GM 101).

Another level of involvement is in design. Moodle has a wide range of themes, some of which allow a wide range of customization. Someone with design abilities could create a professional appearance for the school.

Some additional references:

  • siteground Moodle tutorials
  • 2 Moodle demos, Mt. Orange School and the Sandbox. You can’t “break” either since they are reset every hour.
  • The Value of Coffee: this is a free course from The Open University. It takes maybe 2 hours to complete, and shows how Moodle is used in a real course (all video based). Sort of an interesting subject too.
  • We have created a Trello board for management of the project. Invitations will be sent to those who are interested in participation.
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