A man typing on a laptop blogging about current events and the news.

Three High Tech Alternatives for Teaching Current Events

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Do you ever get tired of reading countless summaries of current events from your students? Chances are your students are tired of writing them, too. Maybe it’s time to rethink the traditional current event assignment and modernize it a little bit.

Engaged citizens need to be aware of what’s going on around the world. This makes current events a critical part of civic education. That’s one reason I use CNN10 on a regular basis in my class.

But while reading and writing about current events helps instill a habit of following the news, at some point it might seem a little pointless. This is especially true if you’re just writing a summary and handing it in for a grade. Instead, a more authentic assignment would involve writing for a real audience and/or participating in a dialogue about those current events.

If you’re just starting out incorporating current events into your class, you might want to check out this post on how to use them in your class on a daily or weekly basis. But if you’re already doing that, here are some hi-tech alternatives that you might want to consider.

Share Current Events in Threaded Discussions

Perhaps the simplest way to rethink the traditional current event assignment is to require students to post their summaries and reactions in a threaded discussion. This adds an element of dialog to the assignment, and it encourages interaction amongst the students. At the very least, the students will write their assignments knowing that they will be publicly visible to the rest of the class.

There are different learning management systems and apps that allow you to do this. If your school uses Schoology, they have a pretty nifty graded discussion feature. You can post a question or video and then have students comment in a threaded discussion. One unique feature is that you can hide the responses until a student submits their own first comment. If you use Google Classroom, you can have students comment underneath the assignment or create a Google Group for a more robust forum-like experience.

Some version of this feature should be pretty common in most learning management systems. The question you’ll have to think about is: how much discussion are you going to require?

For example, you might require that a student post an initial summary and reaction to one news story in the forum and then make three comments in response to other students’ posts. There’s a tricky balancing act here. If you require too many comments, you’ll end up with a lot more artificial, poorly thought out responses. And that doesn’t really add up to a good discussion.

Blog About Current Events with WordPress or Blogger

You can increase the authenticity of the assignment by moving from a closed environment to an open one. Instead of having students discuss these current events in a threaded discussion, you can have them blog about current events – just like real people do.

There are plenty of free resources available for this. For example, with a Google account you can create a blog on Blogger. This creates a very simple chronological collection of posts with threaded commenting capabilities. You could require students to write summaries and reactions to current events on their own blogs and then go read their classmates’ blogs and comment on them.

The WordPress blogging platform logo displayed on a tablet screen
WordPress is a great free tool for blogging.

A slightly more complicated twist is to have students create a multi-author blog on WordPress. This way you can assign the group a certain amount of posts – i.e. 4 or 5 per week – and leave it up to the group to organize who is going to write current events on which day. Each student would still have their own account to read their classmates’ blogs and comment.

Assessing Current Events on Student Blogs

The trouble here is assessing and accountability. In a closed threaded forum, it’s not too hard to count up how many posts and comments a student makes. With individual blogs, you’d have to find a way of visiting and tracking each one. That can be a pain.

One way is to have students submit URLs to their posts and comments for the week to an assignment on your learning management system. That at least collects everything in one place so that you can verify it.

Another way is to make things more student centered and, instead of grading based strictly on their posts and comments, have the students complete self reflections. On a weekly basis, they can reflect on what they wrote about, what they read about, and the quality of the discussions they had about those items. You could spot check this by choosing a small number of students to either share their reflections aloud or meet with you for a conference.

Student Versions of CNN10 or the Daily Show

Instead of asking students to write their responses, why don’t you ask them to film them?

We watch CNN10 on a regular basis in my class, so a natural format for this project would be to ask students to create their own episode of CNN10.

Carl Azuz introducing the September 21 episode of CNN10's video news podcast.
Ask your students to be Carl Azuz for a day and produce their own CNN10 episode.

The structure of a typical episode is pretty simple – three news stories, a multiple choice trivia question, a viral video, a pun, and a montage of photos from the week. Break the students into “production teams” of three or four and have them work together to produce their own episode.

Alternatively, the students could model their film after the Daily Show instead of CNN10. This would involve more commentary on the news than actual telling of news. This requires some more insight into what’s going on, and would be more appropriate with older kids and with those who have more experience with current events.

You can do this on a regular basis – say once every quarter or once every semester. But you could also use it once at the end of the year as a summative activity to build on the current events that you’ve done all year.

If you find your students are into video production, you should think about having the participate in C-SPAN’s StudentCam competition.

How Do You Plan on Revamping Your Current Events This Year?

Maybe you want to go all out and try blogging for a year to see how it goes. Or maybe you want to start small and just have students create a video as a summative project at the end of the year. But do something to switch things up a bit.

If you have any other thoughts or suggestions, leave it in the comments below. How do you plan on revamping your current events this year?

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