Author: Dr. Emily Stacey, Rose State College
The current events discussion is a critical component of all my courses, from American Federal Government (POLS1113) to Introduction to Comparative Political Systems (POLS2803). I use it to involve students in their world beyond the immediate sources of news and information that tend to be state- and local-heavy. These sources also tend to focus on national politics and news rather than international news.
The first day of each semester, I lay out the expectation that each student come to each class meeting (if in-person) with—or post once a week (if online)—a current event to discuss. While I like to focus on the political, students understand this discussion is driven by them. As long as it isn’t entertainment news, I’ll entertain a conversation about it. This includes sports, which can be extremely political at times.
These discussions highlight concepts students learn in the course content by placing them in real-world context. This makes political concepts accessible and extremely relevant to students.
Needless to say, the current events discussion—I call mine “What in the World?!: Current Events”—is my favorite part of the class. I learn more about what my students are paying attention to, as well as stir them towards news and information they need to know but perhaps aren’t aware of.
Here are some tips for conducting meaningful current events discussions whether your course is in person or online:
Establish the standard on day one.
I introduce the concept to students on the first day of class. The first 15–20 minutes of every class period consists of student-driven current events discussions. Students report the news of the day and discuss with their peers and me as their professor.
I attach the current events discussions to their overall participation grade. I also feature extra-credit questions on exams derived directly from those current events that were discussed.
Be prepared to fill in the blanks.
In order to really engage in a meaningful learning experience and tie current events to course content, you should be well-versed in the news of the day. You’ll be prepared and ready to fill in any blanks students may have.
You don’t just want students to read you headlines. The discussion part comes from you parsing through the news and understanding what it means and why it’s important.
Offer safe spaces for all.
A critical part of political science education (to me) is facilitating open and civil dialogue amongst my students who are quite diverse in age, race, ethnic background, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, and certainly political ideologies.
Therefore, I provide an open statement on the first day of class that notes this class/professor will not tolerate “–isms”, hate or prejudice. All opinions that are fact-based will be respected in this course.
This is an exercise in adulthood for students coming out of high school. They might be accustomed to saying whatever is on their minds without an inner monologue. All opinions are heard and evaluated in current events discussions—and the class generally.
Stimulate the conversation.
If there’s a lull in conversation or if students aren’t picking up on major news, stimulate (and direct) the conversation. Give a brief rundown of the events/issues, and throw it back to students to dissect.
I find myself doing this most on Mondays and Tuesdays, when students are coming back to class for the first time that week.
In online courses, I post a current event each week to begin the discussion thread. I dissect this event for students, with links to related articles and background information. I also require students to include references in their own posts. This lets them know I’m just as engaged as they are and provides them with news/information they may not be consuming.
When I post online each week, I’ll do a mix of international, national and local and state news. This keeps students engaged in politics at all levels and provides them with a wider understanding of current events.
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