Incorporating Current Events into Online Course Content

by Jackie Wickham Smith

Because of Northwestern University’s quarter system, teaching the same course four times each year can start to feel repetitive! One way to keep your course up to date and interesting is to incorporate current events into your course content and facilitation. Current events can also be used to customize the course to each cohort’s interests and keep students up to date on the happenings in the field they want to work in. Below are four easy ways to incorporate current events into your online course.

1. Take advantage of the library’s E-Journal subscriptions.

The library subscribes to 158,013 electronic journals! You and your students don’t have to worry about running into the paywall at many popular newspaper websites if you access them through the library homepage. Students can use articles from e-journals as sources in discussion posts, projects, or papers, or just to read for enjoyment and enrichment. If anyone runs into trouble locating the journal they’re looking for, just ask a librarian by clicking the “Ask Us” button in the upper right hand corner of the e-journal search page.

2. Use YellowDig’s pinboard to share articles or assign students to share articles.

YellowDig, an alternate discussion platform integrated with Canvas, provides a user-friendly interface allowing users to post links to articles or videos with their comments and comment on each others’ postings. A scoreboard on the right hand menu keeps track of students who have posted and commented the most, and a visualization tool developed right here at Northwestern, allows you to see a network map of how students interact with each other. Consider assigning points for adding to the YellowDig board throughout the quarter, or even extra credit for the most prolific posters.

3. Create a recent date requirement for a cited source in assignments.

Requiring students to cite at least one source published within the last week, month, or year as part of a discussion, paper, or project forces students to actively seek out current information and news in the field. This is especially relevant in assignments or discussions that naturally lean towards a focus on past events – asking students to mindfully consider updates and changes in the field helps them develop perspective.

4. Create a timeline for your course using the Knight Lab’s Timeline Tool.

The Timeline tool, developed at Northwestern, allows users to create visual, interactive timelines using a variety of sources. You can create one as a resource for your course, or use a shared Google doc for students to build a class timeline together around current events related to the course. Watch the video below to learn more about how to use the Timeline tool.

If you need assistance incorporating any of the above technologies or ideas into your course or want to discuss other methods of keeping your course current, please contact Instructional Technologist Jackie Wickham at

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