Tidbits, Resources, and Discussion for ELI Faculty

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Current Events and the Online Course

Sorry to have been missing for a while; I took an extra-long weekend over Labor Day and just got back to work yesterday.

As I was staying up too late last night watching Palin's speech, I was thinking about how I would have talked about it, and all the many things that have come up in the campaign so far, in my face-to-face classes. In those classes, it is easy to have a discussion about whatever relevant topic might be happening at the time, and to adjust other material as needed to accommodate those on-the-fly content decisions. In an online class, it's not as easy, and my impression from talking to many of you is that you see your courses as static. That is, because you have had to design it in advance, you feel that all the content is fixed (until the next revision) and you can't engage students on current topics the way you could in the classroom.

I don't think, though, that this has to be the case--and I hope that you will all find ways (for your students' sake and your own!) to keep your courses fresh, separate from the sorts of changes that require revisions. Here are some ways I have thought of that you could do this:
  • I always recommend that faculty send a weekly email to students (or post a weekly Blackboard announcement) with reminders about assignments, course policies, etc. Why not also use this as a place to mention current events/issues related to your course material? (Or even more broadly, just to contribute to your students' general literacy, you could also mention other things, like books you've read lately and what you thought of them. This has the added benefit of helping create your social presence in the course, so students know they are interacting with a person and not just a computer.)
  • Keep an "Open Forum" in your discussion board in Blackboard and post interesting news items or current topics related to your course material. If students don't take the bait, you could even offer extra credit for their contributions to this forum (discussing what others have posted, and/or posting their own finds). For example, my ELI course is on race and ethnicity, and a few semesters ago, when the reality show Survivor divided the contestants into teams by race, I posted something about it in the Open Forum, and we got some interesting discussion going outside the regular course assignments.
  • If you keep a class blog, or a discipline blog for all your classes to read, that's an obvious place to post current events-type items.

What other ways have you come up with to inject current events into your online courses?

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