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OpenCongress 101

October 29, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

While we don’t like giving busy college students more homework, we do like helping people learn more about what their members of Congress are up to. My Google Blog Search feed has alerted me to what appears to be the work of the first few students completing an assignment to dig through and write a couple of paragraphs on what they’ve learned about their Representative and the impact their research has had on them.

We think it’s an excellent assignment. Knowing what your Congressman is up to is the first step towards engaging in the political process. And the extra excellent thing about this particular assignment is that the students are passing in their work in the form of blog posts. So, they’re not only learning about their representatives, but also contributing to the collective knowledge that’s available on the internet for other citizens and constituents to use.

Since OpenCongress’s aggregator is constantly scouring the blogosphere for newly published material about bills, senators and representatives, the students’ work is actually showing up on OpenCongress (click here and here for examples).

The more we know and share about our elected officials, the better we are at holding them accountable and making what this student said less and less true:

>I don’t think what I’ve learned about my representative impacts me at all. Though I feel he has done a good job, its not something life altering or shocking. Though he helps pass laws and can help change the country, i feel that my local councilman had done a lot more to contribute to the community.

By the way, we’ve got a new feature on OpenCongress that lets you look up who your senators and representative are. It’s located on the left side of the homepage, right under the blog. If you don’t already know who represents you in Washington, put in your zip code and take a few minutes to find out what they’ve been up to. On each member of Congress’s page, there are also several tools to help you track their actions and share what you’ve learned with others.

Here are some of the completed assignments so far:

Rick Renzi: my congressional representative….for now.

My Representative (Howard McKeon)

Open Congress (Brad Sherman)

My Representative : Brad Sherman

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