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Keep current with current events in talk channels
Keep current with current events in talk channels

Set up discussions in talk channels by using news articles, opinion pieces and blogs to show how your course links with the outside world.

Caitlin Foran avatar
Written by Caitlin Foran
Updated over a week ago

You only need to look at the comments threads in social media and news platforms to see that people get really engaged in news stories. So what better way to show the relevance of your course than by connecting it to current events? Your learners will already likely be aware of the event or already talking about it. Why not use this engagement to support the outcomes for the course?

How you can incorporate current events into your course varies depending on the subject and learners. So, we’ve pulled together a few examples to show how it might be done across a number of contexts. First, we’ll begin with two more structured examples. Then, you’ll be able to see how that structure could be applied across the remaining examples.

Fake news

Many learning programmes incorporate outcomes related to critical thinking. And it's not surprising given the rise of content available - the internet has made publishing for a large audience extremely easy. This activity should help your learners to practice applying a critical lens when reading.

  1. Post an article related to your course to a talk channel (ideally the article is missing some of the IMVAIN elements described below).

  2. Explain to your learners that you want them to discuss the credibility of the article.
    For instance, you could: Use the acronym IMVAIN to check that sources are: Independent, Multiple, Verifiable, Authoritative, Informed and Named (for more information see Introducing IMVAIN).
    Be sure to explain how critical thinking is especially useful in your course (or their profession). 

  3. Ask learners to choose one of the letters in IMVAIN and comment on how the article measures up.
    For larger groups you may like to split learners intro groups (see How to set up group talk channels).'

  4. Encourage learners to include evidence e.g. exact quotes where possible.

  5. After most learners have had a chance to contribute to the discussion, you could summarise the themes of the discussion and remind learners of the relevance of what they’ve just done by connecting it to outcomes, the subject or profession.

That’s your opinion

Opinion editorials (op eds) are subjective so they can make a great starting point for a debate. Asynchronous debates (learners responding at different times) are great for a less formal structure and give learners the time to reflect and plan before responding.

  1. Post an op ed related to your course to a talk channel. You may also like to include some further readings for learners if you’d like them to research a bit before taking a “side” on the op ed.

  2. Explain the purpose of this discussion. For instance, how this piece relates to the learning outcomes for the course. If relevant, you could also explain how debate is useful for the outcomes, subject or profession.

  3. Ask learners if they agree or disagree with the piece and why. To enhance the quality of the debate, before beginning remind learners of some “ground rules”:
    - Articulate points concisely
    - Read others’ points attentively
    - Remain objective (attack the argument, not the person)
    - Ensure their contributions are relevant
    - Be reflective and reflect on the points made by opposing and supporting sides as the discussion progresses.

  4. Monitor the discussion and gently remind those learners who miss the ground rules. Redirect where required.

  5. After most learners have had a chance to contribute to the discussion, you could summarise the themes of the discussion and remind learners of the relevance of what they’ve just done by connecting it to outcomes, the subject or profession.

The pattern for using current events in talk channels

Now that you’ve seen two structured examples, you might see a bit of a pattern:

  1. Find article

  2. Be explicit about the purpose of activity

  3. Set task

  4. Guide discussion

  5. Summarise and link back to what you described in 2.

This general pattern can be applied to the remaining examples.

Mirror to the past (or future)

Help learners connect what they’re learning to historical contexts by bringing in news articles from the past. Try searching these places with some of your topics key terms:

  • Papers Past (from the New Zealand National Library)

  • The Times Machine (from the New York Times)

  • Any other specific online newspaper archives (list maintained by Wikipedia)

Depending on the article, you might be able to encourage learners to discuss:

  • How things have changed

  • How things haven’t changed

  • The connection between context and news (especially if you’re able to find a similar, contemporary article)

If your class is more future focused, you might bring up a past or present short news article and ask learners to come up with headlines related to the topic in 5, 10, 50 or even 100 years time. Or, you could take it further by asking learners to create or co-create a short future article (especially if writing and communication are part of your learning outcomes).

Connections

News articles can be wonderful prompts for reflection and connections.

Connection to self
How does this story remind me of my own life and experiences? Or… How is it removed from what I know?

Connection to other texts
What have I read that related to this article? What books, poems or other articles does this remind me of? Why?

Connection to the wider world
How the topics in this article relate to the real world around me? What connections can I see between this article and other events or issues in the world? What connections can I see between a local and global context?

Making policy

Why not ask learners to be policymakers? In this example, a group could look closely at an issue covered in an article and brainstorm possible solutions. Then they can work together to draft a rough policy perhaps one that suggests a local solution to the problem.

Breaking news

If your course has elements of writing or communication, you may want to consider asking the learners to write a news story. Learners could do this individually or in a group. Give learners/groups a topic and have them write a “breaking news” article. If they’re the kind of learners who would benefit from a little more structure, you could ask them to cover off the classic who, what, when, where, why, how in their article.

Use activities instead

Many of these ideas for talk channels could be tweaked to be activities in the course itself. The only difference is the fourth step “Guide discussion”. Instead of guiding the discussion, you’ll need to include automatic feedback for learners. So, if you’re at the “creating” phase of making your course, think about whether these activities would work best for your context and learners as individual activities within the course or discussion activities in the talk channel.

In summary

News articles can be a great way to show relevance and generate discussions. All of the options presented here are a variation on a theme and could be further tweaked. Just follow the pattern:

  1. Find article

  2. Be explicit about the purpose of activity

  3. Set task

  4. Guide discussion

  5. Summarise and link back to what you described in 2.

We’d love to hear your ideas. Tell us how you’d incorporate news articles into you courses!

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