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Peer Review

Congress in the Classroom Online

by Frank Mackaman


Overall Numeric Rating:

4.75 stars
Content Quality: 5 stars
Effectiveness: 4.75 stars
Ease of Use: 4.75 stars
Reviewed: Aug 23, 2010 by Teacher Education
Overview: Congress in the Classroom® Online is a self-paced tutorial to help classroom teachers and others understand today's Congress and suggest ways to teach about it. The course is organized around the twin responsibilities of Congress members: representation and lawmaking. There are more than a dozen individual units on such topics as "What Makes for Effective Members of Congress?" "How Representative is the Membership of Congress?" and "Lawmaking: Understanding the Basics." All the information you need to complete the online course is available with just a few mouse clicks.
Type of Material: Tutorial
Recommended Uses: This course is designed for two applications: 1. As a teacher training resource and 2. As classroom units for individual or group study. The site provides professional development for K-12 teachers and pre-service teachers on how the U.S. Congress works and best practices for teaching students about Congress.
Technical Requirements: Works well with Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari. Does not require special plug-ins.
Identify Major Learning Goals: The primary purpose is to help teachers find out about the latest research on Congress and to use the information creatively in their classrooms. By combining up-to-date content with effective ways to teach it, The Dirksen Congressional Center hopes to improve understanding of the people's branch of government. Users will investigate and understand the two different functions of members of the U.S. Congress: making laws and representing the people. Users will also investigate the nature and value of Democracy and citizen advocacy.
Target Student Population: The course does not indicate grade level of students targeted, but the help section indicates it is for both teacher use and student use. Reading level would indicate suitability for high school and undergraduate classrooms. Teachers of political science or civics would benefit from this site.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: Users must have basic skills in computer use and Internet browsing and the ability to read at an adult level. Prerequisite knowledge would include introduction to the Democratic and Representative forms of government and knowledge of the three branches of the U.S. government.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: The site is very clear and easy to understand. It keeps a focus on the two learning areas while providing a rich amount of resources to support the learning activities. The content has high validity having been developed by experts in the field. The course modules are well constructed, based on high quality research and linked to current events related to the United States Congress. All assignments in the course includes links to multimedia supplements on specific elements of Congress, current events and historical perspectives. Participants are encouraged through the assignments to link the principles presented to their current lives and their current Congressional delegation. The current course content is based on data collected from 10 years on traditional workshops.
Concerns: No concerns

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 4.75 stars
Strengths: The module is user-friendly and has developed the instruction in small, clearly identifiable chunks so that students can concentrate on each topic and each lesson easily and in their own time. All materials used in the course come from well-regarded professionals in the field. Each unit requires participants to actively engaged through the process of taking polls and surveys, analyzing data from recent national polls, rating members of participant's Congressional delegation, taking part in virtual tours of the physical space of the U. S. Congress and other learning activities relevant to what Congress does and how that work affects individual citizens. The lesson designs serve as models for learner engagement.
Concerns: Instructors will need to develop their own assessments when using this course.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 4.75 stars
Strengths: Instructions are given for how to enroll, how to navigate the system and how to access materials and turn in assignments. The instructor has included exemplars for most assignments so that participants can see approaches taken by other learners in the course. The course takes place inside of the Moodle learning management system, so all tools are standard and in standard locations throughout the course.
Concerns: Navigation and usability of the site is of high quality. The learning material is print-based without guiding or engaging graphics to build the appeal for students. Screen captures showing how to use some of the tools would be helpful.

Other Issues and Comments: This is an excellent course to teach teachers about how Congress works and to teach them through content and examples how to teach these understandings to others. The course serves as an excellent model for providing an active learning environment that requires regular work at analyzing and evaluating information. The many assignments linked to current events adds to the relevancy of the content.