Keeping up with current events in the classroom

How do you include current events in your courses?

I’m teaching Introduction to Comparative Politics this semester and I just can’t keep up with all the relevant current events. Every morning, I scroll through my Twitter feed, full of examples that I can be using in class. My students tend to be very engaged with the news and I want to tap into this excitement by integrating more current events into class, but I just find it overwhelming.

What, in particular, are some of my challenges to integrating current events into a political science course, particularly an introductory course?

First, I should note that my primary learning objective for this course is that students will leave with the tools to critically interpret events in the world. As such, I introduce them to a number of key comparative politics theories and concepts and provide opportunities to applying these concepts to the real world.  And current events do provide real world cases to which students can apply what they are learning. At the same time, I worry about shifting the balance of class too heavily towards current events. Here are three specific challenges that I face:

  • Course preparation: integrating current events into courses – rather than using “historical” examples – presents a challenge for course preparation. If I want students to read about a case before class, that needs to go in the syllabus which means planning ahead. Even if I don’t need them to read about it before class, adding “breaking news” into class can be challenging when we are rushing to finish lesson plans in the last minutes before class (no, just me?).
  • What to include: I don’t know if it’s the proliferation of social media or what, but are there somehow more current events now than ever before? How do we keep up? How do we decide what to include? I leave my office, walk 5 minutes to class, and something new has happened. This often results in a student asking a question that takes us on an un-planned, even if informative, tangent. This doesn’t seem the most effective way to integrate current events into the course.
  • When to include: I want to give the students the theoretical and conceptual tools to understand comparative politics BEFORE we start talking about current events. But, they want to talk about current events RIGHT NOW. To use current events in support of my learning objectives requires a bit more deliberation, and that requires planning.

So, what’s the balance? What have I tried?

  • I use a blog assignment to shift some of the responsibility to them. Last year, I resurrected and modified an assignment that has the students apply class concepts to countries (each student is responsible for one country). I love this assignment, in theory, but have had a difficult time getting it to work in practice. I’ll post more about this blog assignment in another week.
  • I just started carving out 5-10 minutes in each class to talk about a current event and connect it to class materials. I asked the students to suggest current events they’d like to learn more about and, so far, they like this addition to the class. I throw together a slide or two on a topic and can do this without too much additional course prep.
  • Ideally, I would update stale examples to use current examples in each lesson. I’ve started to do this, one example at a time (e.g. I used the September Israeli elections to talk about coalition building last week). But I am very fond of many of my old examples and am hesitant to throw them all away in favor of current events every semester, back to the preparation point from above.

I know I’m never going to be able to discuss everything that is happening in the world, but I do see a positive effect on student engagement when we integrate current events into class so I am going to keep trying. I’m curious how others integrate current events into class?