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MENA Fall 2020

Remote: Class meets on Zoom Monday and Wednesday from 2:15-3:45

Dr. Leslie McLees   

Sam McLaughlin     
Samantha Brown   

What is the significance of a plane of Israeli officials landing in UAE in August of 2020? Why did the ‘Arab Spring’ begin in Tunisia? Why are there crop circles in the middle of the Arabian desert? Why is the Syrian civil war still raging on? How do many of these arid regions access water? Why are women being allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia? Why is Iran so opposed to Saudi Arabia and the US? Who are the Kurds and what is the significance of Kurdistan?

This course is designed to give you tools that will help you address questions like these. We will explore questions in ways that compel us to look at the political, economic, social, and environmental processes shaping places throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Throughout this course, you will develop tools that will help you continue learning about this region, and others around the world, far beyond the final project. Geographical concepts will provide you with a deeper context for comprehending the processes through which places are shaped and, importantly, develop an understanding of current events playing out right now.

You will not be required to memorize trivial facts in this class. Instead, I expect you to engage with a geographical approach to understanding and explaining how spatial phenomena (i.e. economic, political, social, or environmental processes) shape places in different human and physical geographic contexts. Geographers examine how and why people interact with and transform the areas in which they are situated to create specific places (cities, states, parks, etc.). It delves into how power dynamics, histories, globalization, identity, and more are mobilized and situated in places to explain the disparities and patterns that constitute the world in today’s headlines.  As such, it provides valuable tools for understanding the world around us, both here and in places that seem far away.

This syllabus is subject to change. If any changes are made, you will be notified through Canvas and/or email in a timely manner.

 ** We recognize that this is an unprecedented and bewildering time for everyone as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a divisive political climate, and social tensions. We will be as flexible as possible with regard to the challenges you may encounter. This is a very stressful time and many people who have not experienced anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges before are experiencing them now. Recognize your need for mental health breaks. Video chat with family and friends. Veg out to TV. Do what you need to do to stay physically and emotionally healthy. If you experience any emotional, mental, physical, or logistical challenges, please reach out to us for help. We can help or direct you to resources that can offer assistance of various kinds.

 Many of you are still new to or getting used to remote and online courses. This is a huge change. Please do NOT expect your course load to be easier. Instead, online courses attempt to deliver the same content and concepts using different methods of delivery. These are different methods, not necessarily easier ones. Online courses require MUCH more self-motivation from both students and instructors. Try to make yourself a schedule that accommodates your personal circumstances (don’t like to work in the morning, have to take care of children or family, need breaks from a computer, etc.). If you continue to have difficulty, please reach out to me and I can help you develop some ideas of how to approach your online courses.**

Resume-ready skills you will develop in the class

Go into these assignments and activities with the idea that you are developing in-demand transferable skills for your resume. Because you are! Focus on your skills and think about how you could display these on a resume (I can help you if you want!), and your final project can be something you can be proud to show in a professional portfolio! And then you will understand why you are in college.

  • Problem‐solving by developing a group project and figuring out the best process to display data and learning new platforms to work on.
  • Effective communication by developing weekly assignments to communicate concepts through writing and other ways of displaying and communicating ideas (maps, pictures, videos, etc.).
  • Providing feedback during your weekly group discussion about your groupmates’ regional application assignment.
  • Finding and displaying relevant data. You will be making maps!
  • Time management through collaboration and organizing tasks for assignments to submit on time.
  • Research and analytical skills through the weekly assignment, where you will be conducting your own research and compiling responses to prompts to display for weekly assignments.
  • Information technology through learning how to map maps and storymaps (a different thing from maps!) in ArcGIS Online.

Expected Learning Outcomes

  • Identify how political, economic, social and environmental forces influence places across scales and how these forces create similarities and differences between places;
  • Reflect upon and understand how you are situated in these processes;
  • Engage with course concepts to help explain current events in different places;
  • Apply concepts explored in class to the real world through observation of the local environment;
  • Develop an understanding and respect for different sub-regions and peoples who inhabit them;
  • Understand the depth of experience that people who are from and in places around the world by seeing the multiple processes that shape their places.

 Required materials

  • Access to stable, high-speed internet that can handle streaming videos
  • You will need to establish and be connected to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to access the required readings. If you need to set that up, please click here.  You can scroll down to the section Connect to UO VPN. To access readings on the library website, connect to the VPN then navigate to the reading link to log in with your UO ID to access the library resources.

Note that this class will be delivered synchronously, but with flexibility. There will be deadlines, however, each week for submitting materials.


This course will be delivered via Canvas and Zoom. Zoom links to each session can be found on the Canvas web page on the left-hand toolbar. You will also find all course materials, including content slides, quizzes, and assignment sheets in Canvas. You will also use this platform to interact with your classmates and instructor. Visit to access the course. For technical assistance in Canvas visit this site.

Communication guidelines

As this course is entirely provided online, communication will be primarily through email. While I expect that I will be able to respond to all inquiries within a day or less, please allow up to 48 hours (unless otherwise notified) for a response, especially on weekends. Please use the same expectations when you communicate with your GEs.

Please remember that the relationships between students and classmates, the GEs, and the instructor are a professional one. As such, any communications should be conducted in a professional manner. Do not use text lingo in emails to me or on the discussion boards. Emails need to have the course number (GEOG 209) and should begin with a salutation, a brief a clear description of the question and a sign off, such as in the example below:

Subject: GEOG 209

Hi Dr McLees,

I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed this week’s course content. I look forward to what we will learn next week!



If you have any issues or concerns about the course, please bring them up as they arise. I want to alleviate any communication problems as early as possible.

Finally, a discussion thread will be created during week one where I will ask you to post any general questions about the course mechanics (due dates, guidelines, etc.). I will try to respond as soon as possible, but I encourage the entire class to monitor that thread in case any questions that you may have were already addressed. This will save time for the instructor, GEs and students who can use this discussion thread as a resource to address these types of issues.


* Note that all times are given below and in the course are Pacific Standard Time, or local Eugene time. If you are located elsewhere, it is your responsibility to figure out the time differences so that everything is submitted on time.

  • Readings: Each student will be responsible for reading the assigned chapters and materials. There will also be news articles, opinion pieces or other brief readings to supplement the texts. These will be embedded within the content slides. Make sure you read them. Student guides and content slides (discussed below) will help guide you as to which material you should focus on. A weekly quiz will assess your understanding of the material.
  • Attend and participate in synchronous class and discussion sessions: This class will be twice a week via Zoom and in your assigned discussion times. We will not usually take up the entire class period, and instead, we will meet to discuss concepts and you will be on your own for supplemental readings and occasionally videos. Classes will be covering concepts and addressing questions.
    • We will regularly break out into small groups, so whether or not you have your video on, please be present!
  • Participation in online discussions: Students will be separated into small discussion groups, each monitored by one of the GEs. Each week you will submit a draft of your assignment in your discussion group by Thursday at 11:59pm. You must respond to at least two of your classmates’ posts by Saturday at 11:59pm to give them some time to incorporate any feedback by the time the assignment is due on Sunday.
    • You will be graded on your feedback. You are expected to provide feedback that looks for the things the person did well and what they could improve. Include both! Your critiques should include whether they used concepts well, whether they used data well, whether they adhered to the prompt, whether they properly cited, whether they included any required vocabulary, whether their writing made sense, and more. Be specific. if you know of data that could help them, suggest it. Above all, be kind and helpful. These are not a chance to engage in debate over a topic. Your discussion grade will be as follows: 5 points for a decent effort to respond to the prompt and submit it on time in the discussion. 2.5 points each for high-quality feedback to your classmates.
  • Weekly Assignment: Throughout the course, we will be covering key themes and concepts in geography and applying them to specific places within the Middle East & North Africa. Each student will keep a page in Canvas exploring how these concepts play out in their own lives. More details on this project will be described on the weekly assignment links in Canvas.
  • Weekly quizzes: Each week there will be a quiz covering the readings that week.  Questions will be multiple choice and will come directly from the reading material.
    • Quizzes will be released, along with other weekly materials, at 12:01am on Monday and they are due at 11:59pm on Sunday of the same week.
  • Final project: The weekly regional assignments will provide the foundation of your final storymap project. Details about this will be provided early in the term so that students can see how their projects can be built and directed to this medium. More details about this project will be posted on canvas under the final project module.

Assignments & late work

The due dates for all assignments, discussions, and quizzes will be posted as each product is placed online. If you know that you will be busy during a certain deadline, you are welcome (and encouraged) to turn work in early to ensure that you receive full credit.

In some cases, late work will be accepted for partial credit. See below for details of when each type of assignment is due and the late policies.

  • Discussion board: You must make an initial discussion board posting by Thursday at 11:59 pm of the corresponding week to receive full credit. If an initial posting is made after Thursday at 11:59 pm, partial credit will be awarded (see Discussion Board Grading Rubric). Discussion board postings will not receive any credit if completed after Sunday at 11:59 pm.
  • Quizzes: Quizzes must be completed by the assigned due date and time unless prior arrangement has been made for a legitimate reason (e.g., documented illness or attendance at a family funeral) with the instructor.
  • Weekly regional assignments: Late assignments will lose 10% if turned in the day after the due date (between 1 and 24 hours late), 25% if two days late (24 – 48 hours late), 40% if three days late (48-72 hours late). Late assignments can be turned in up to a week late for a deduction of 50%. No late assignments will be accepted more than a week after the due date.
    • There will be nine weekly assignments. Each one is worth up to 10 points, for a total possible 90 points. If you complete all nine assignments, you will receive an additional 10 points as part of your final total. (See ‘Evaluation,’ below.)

*All assignments and quizzes for the course must be turned in no later than Sunday after week nine at 11:59 pm (except for material due in week 10 and the final project).

Late work will not be accepted for full credit unless a previous arrangement has been made with the instructor and the student has a legitimate and documented reason for missing a due date.



Discussion attendance AND participation
*no discussion week one. You all get 10 free points!*
10 pts ea 100 pts total
Weekly quizzes 10 pts ea 100 pts total
Discussion boards (post and response) 10 pts ea 100 pts total
Weekly assignments (9 total) 10 pts ea 90 pts total
Completing all 9 weekly assignments 10 pts 10 pts
Final storymap project 100 pts 100 pts
Total points 500 pts