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Utilizing Current Events

Joe Old

Preaching to the choir?
In many ways, this unit is probably preaching to the choir, as most teachers and instructors probably already try to work current events into their classes. If not, instructional technology provides a wonderful opportunity to begin. If your just beginning to explore the use of the web and other aspects of instructional technology discussed in this module, finding and using current events are ways to practice and develop instructional technology skills.

First, the skills developed here -- particularly as pertain to making web pages, linking to information on the web, and gather images for class use -- deal with the basic mechanisms by which the WWW works. The more you use these skills, the better you will come to understand the web. This also applies to Unit #4, "Absolute Beginner's PowerPoint," too, as you can put links in PowerPoint presentations that will take you directly to the web, assuming a live link up.

The key to this is a concept talked about in Unit 2: every URL is really just a file name to material stored in the gigantic computer called the World Wide Web. By linking to them, you are treating the files of others as if they were your own files, at least in terms of showing them. And as long as the URLs haven't changed, the material is there to be used.

Unlimited current events material:
The kind of current events you will want to use will depend, of course, on the discipline you are teaching in and the particular lesson you are developing. The remarkable thing about the web is that it is hard to imagine any discipline that doesn't have some news reported on the web.

I have two main sources for web-based current events. The first is National Public Radio; the second is Google News. I will discuss them each separately.

National Public Radio (NPR) - a treasury of information:
NPR has two main broadcasts each day, "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered," with hourly news updates throughout the day. The specific programming in your area will, of course, depend on your local public radio station, but even if there isn't one in your area, NPR broadcasts are available online.

In addition to the broad range of news topics that are covered, it is surprising how in-depth coverage can be. In the past, I would hear a news item and then have to find an account in the newspaper to carry with me into class. But not now! For the past several years (since 1995 in some cases) NPR has been putting its broadcasts online, and these are searchable. Below are useful links:

The archives are available at the "Previous Shows" link for each program. Search links are available and prominently displayed.

There are a number of ways this material can be used. Perhaps the simplest is to print out the individual stories and carry them to class. You can also, using software discussed briefly in Unit #8, "Making It All Work," you can record the individual story and then burn a CD to play in class. Another option, which I sometimes use, is construct a simple web page (using any number of programs,) list the link on the page and open it once I'm in class, again, assuming access to the WWW in the classroom. If there is no Internet access in the classroom, simply save the pages to a file and store it wherever you can access it (CD, floppy or even your laptop) and take that to class.

If there are images, they may have to be saved separately, but a little practice will make you comfortable in gathering the material you will want to use. In fact, once you get the hang of it, you can can take only partial pages and even reconfigure the pages so that headlines and desirable quotes stand out better when projected on screen.

I have only talked about "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered," but there are other programs available on the NPR web site as well. I have made extensive use of current events in my journalism classes, but also in my English and world history classes. I cannot imagine a discipline that would not have some relevant material available through NPR.

Google News:
Another great source of current events material is the Google search engine's "News" link. The page updates automatically whenever there is breaking news, and a wide variety of sources are regularly searched. The page indicates how recent (often in minutes) a story is.

I frequently use the Google "News" link to find whether there has been recent news about a subject I am interested in. It's not uncommon to have thousands of "hits" on the subject you are searching for. The Google "News" link is a terrific way to gather enormous amounts of background information very quickly.

In spite of its power, there is a recent feature of the Google "News" link that is annoying, even if it isn't a real drawback: Many of the contributing web sites -- often news organizations -- have an application you must fill out in order to read the stories. Most appear to be free, and I just skip filling out the form and go on to another article, unless the news organization is a source I might want to consult often.

Other sources:
It seems as though every news organization is striving to have a presence on the web, so there are a wide variety of other sources besides NPR and the Google "News" link. Many Interest services even allow you to subscribe to these sources free.

If there are a number of sources you know you will be using on a regular basis, you might as well just put your favorite links on a web page and store it right on your computer desktop. Here is a selected list of links from global news organizations:

Of course, if you have interest in a specific field, you can find all the useful web sites you want and build you own page of links. Here are links to two different web sites I once constructed on the subject of mentoring. The sites were designed to give new K-12 teachers information about both mentoring and a wide variety of disciplines, ranging from biology to zoology. At one point all the links worked. I refer to these sites here merely to suggest the possibilities for online material both in terms of current events and of specific disciplines:

In the world of information that we now live in, there is no shortage of information. It would be wrong, of course, to suggest that all the information about current events is now online, but an amazing amount is. It only takes a little imagination and a little practice to be able to access it and to turn it into a useful resource for your classroom.