Many academics likely grew up with a newspaperor at the very least, watching grandparents and parents who read newspapers the habit of reading newspapers every day is not something many people in our class are with. A recent study of students within my National and International Policy course at Indiana University showed that the majority of them got their news via social media, with news being based on “whatever family members and friends publish.”
This isn’t shocking, considering that the results of a recent studyby the Pew Research Center found that over half of Americans receive their news on social media. However the feeds of social media are full of content that reinforces our prejudices. Sometimes, these posts are “fake information” or exaggerations.
A lot of faculty members from all fields are concerned about the national political debate that is tending to be a focus on personal attacks and speculation, and away from an honest and constructive exchange on the policy. To combat this trend, all of us who teach courses on current events should ask the students to study a daily national newspaper, spend some time each week discussing its contents and assess their knowledge of major news headlines. This small step can make an enormous impact on students’ reading habits.
A casual conversation with students indicates their awe at the amount of information available. They are also unsure of what they can do to separate truth from fiction. With this dilemma, some have decided to give up on being educated citizens. When asked about the stories they remembered, a majority of respondents mentioned accounts of scandals or natural catastrophes. These dramatic stories attract attention however, they often lack impact on policy.
A literature search about using news stories in the classroom of a college turns up years of research on creative ways to encourage students to keep up with the latest news. These range from the old “clipping files” to the requirement that students keep a blog about the news. A lot of suggestions are enthralling but may not be feasible for us who have huge class sizes, in addition to other subjects that students need to learn in our class.
The evolving characteristics of media technology make the job difficult for faculty. How do we comprehend and master this complex and constantly changing subject? What can we do to make an informed decision about what to look for in an environment that shifts not only every day but also each minute?
If teachers aren’t able to define the need to read news headlines in a clear manner the majority of students will abandon the task before even beginning. What headlines should they read? The mere act of identifying a news source can leave students scratching their heads over what they could do with continuously changing websites.
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This issue can be simple to fix; many national newspapers provide a free everyday headlines news program. Faculty members can pick one and base the test and quiz questions on the basic understanding of the headlines. If the criteria for success is simple and achievable then more students will take on the test. Students who prefer getting their news via smartphones may also download apps to keep track of these headlines with ease.
A New Approach to Teaching
The reading of a national newspaper has been a required class in my political science introductory classes. I’ve always asked questions about the current news on the test and exam. However, current events-related questions were more often left out during exams and tests as I started to believe that my teaching approach of reading for a requirementdid not result in the desired outcome for learning that is a lifetime habit of reading the news. In the summer of 2016 I began to find out why.
I went through some deep-seated reflection and looked at the requirement for the course. Utilizing the backward-looking principles of the course’s design I analyzed my goal of learning -an ongoing habit of reading quality news channels and then I asked myself what my students needed to be able to accomplish in order to attain that learning goal. I identified three fundamental steps:
- Students should learn about reliable sources of information. Students should learn the characteristics of a quality news report like. Surveys of students indicate that with time, they’ll learn to appreciate this type of information. This is because the journalists who work for well-known national newspapers maintain an extremely high standard of quality. Their articles are accompanied by an understanding of the situation and are meticulously scrutinized for accuracy. Reading these kinds of articles often can be addictive.
After a year of reading a newspaper from the national press many students have decided that reading this newspaper, and not their Facebook feed, would be the most effective method to keep up with current events. One student wrote, “I now get my news mostly through The New York Times daily news briefing rather than social media. I’ve established this habit of news because it seems that the NYT is an excellent news source.”
- Students should find out which stories they should be reading. My students reported that “lack of time” is the most important reason for them not to keep up with current events. Learning to read selectively is a skill that they must learn. It’s not just the case that The New York Times publishes a variety of stories which are not newsworthy. The majority of front-page stories provide analyses and at times even speculation about what could occur, and a large proportion of these are human interest stories that focus on the lives of everyday people who are affected by dramatic natural or political disasters or exploring the personalities that are involved in the politics. Although these stories offer interesting background, those seeking the most basic information on policy issues should pay more attention to those stories that cover the hard news.
- Students need to be able to read the news every day. Students are strategic learners as well as rational actors that take the path that has the lowest resistance. For most of my students this means delaying reviewing the latest headlines of the news until the evening prior to the test. As a result, what I observed of my class was that the test questions that dealt with recent events were often than not. Additionally, I wasn’t reaching my learning goals as students weren’t not getting into the habit of reading important news from the national media on a regular on a regular basis.
Being aware that active learning can engage students in higher levels of cognition , and transforms their attitudes towards the learning environment I realized that the most crucial action I could take was to involve students in small-group discussions about the news stories they had to read. Furthermore, I could utilize several of those group activities to provide students with knowledge of how to be able to selectively read news.
Since the fall of last year the students in my class were given short teams of assignments on recent events. The assignments were all completed in no more than 10 minutes they were graded by me using an easy scale as part of the class assignments during the day. The first day of class I set up pairs of students with working out how to be able to access The New York Times on our library’s website, and to identify significant stories from the day based on predetermined criteria I gave them. I also urged students to join an account with the New York Timesemail service. This was a good first step in making students aware that they do not have to read every article within The New York Timesand to encourage them to begin to read with a focus.
Other assignments involved the comparison of coverage across different news outlets, answering specific questions on major headlines in the news as well as writing an current event test that they had created. The requirement that students spend one or two minutes of class time pondering the news resulted in an improvement in the quality of their work.
The results of surveys conducted by my students reveal an important change in their information consumption habits throughout the course of one semester. Although nearly half of them been getting their news on social media in the beginning of the term, this percentage dropped by 17 percent at the end of the semester. Students also said that they had noticed a noticeable change in their personal routines. 70% of those polled said they were watching the news more often towards the conclusion of the semester. 80 percent of them said that they’d continue to do so even after the semester had ended. Students reported that they felt the personal benefit of being aware of current news events.
One student wrote about the benefits of a daily news routine as follows: “The difference in how I receive news is that prior to this, I checked news sources every now and then and when I keep up, I notice patterns and changes which I didn’t anticipate previously.” Another student said, “I now focus more on the news and the events in the world around me. I’m now actually checking sources of news to keep myself entertained. The class has made me want to do this, and I find it to be necessary to enjoy it.” In a time where many academics are asking questions over the political climate in our country it is time to return to the basics in the classroom. Just only a few minutes per every week for current affairs and assessing students on their knowledge could make a huge difference.