Frequently Asked Questions

WHAT IS NEWSACTIVIST?

Designed to foster the interaction and collaboration of teachers and students worldwide, NewsActivist is a learning platform with features that facilitate course management and academic standards for writing and communication around contemporary issues. The relevance of NewsActivist as a teaching tool is evidenced by the fact that 4900+ users from 50+ institutions worldwide have used NewsActivist since its inception in early 2013. These FAQs are primarily for teachers. Soon, more resources will be available for new users.

Open facing front page allows student work to be publicly visible which, for many students, is a great motivator for submitting quality work.  That being said, students have privacy controls and may opt to only have their work viewed by select students, classes or their teacher. 
Organizing content according to the themes identified by the students themselves makes this platform explicitly student-centred.
In addition to focusing on the issues that they care about, students also gain access to multiple perspectives from around the world including Japan, Canada, USA, England, Germany etc.
Only registered students can comment on work submitted to the site.  Upon registration students accept to adhere to certain norms of communication which help maintain a high level of discussion , unlike publicly accessible discussion forums.  Students are also able to flag any posts or comments that they deem inappropriate.
An engaging interface resembles public social media sites that many students already participate in and with features similar to news sites encouraging high-level content submission.  It’s usability and options to “recommend” and “feature” certain posts is appealing to teachers and students alike. 
Usability is enhanced by several filters that cross-reference all student content by issue (civil rights; science and technology), location, language, and type of content (news summary; editorial; abstract), giving students a way to browse work from partner classes or any class hosted on the site. 
A teacher’s forum for collaboration planning and the availability of pedagogical consultants allows for easy resource sharing and curriculum coordination with teachers from around the world.
A variety of site features help teachers easily access and grade their students’ submissions and manage students work submitted to their class page or as comments on other students work anywhere across the network of classes hosted at newsactivist.
Students get emails alerting to them of comments made on their work at the site and are able to see how many times their work has been viewed, making academic work empowering and meaningful. 
As evidenced by the fact that NewsActivist has been used to complement coursework from Business, to ESL and humanities courses, the usability and flexibility of the site ensures that it can meet a variety of curriculum goals.  For example, teachers may opt to simply have students use the site for reading and writing exercises to enhance course content and student engagement, or, they may choose to coordinate entire courses with partners from around the world.  
 

Here are ten easy steps to help a teacher get started:

1.       “Register”

2.       On registration page, pick a username and choose from the list of institutions, or add your own. You can change your username later.

3.       Go to your email and click the link to authenticate that you are a real user. When you've been authenticated on the site, you will be able to add your class and other items to the site and  you will be able to comment on other content. 

4.   if you want to create a class your students will be invited to join, from the "Add Content” menu, choose  “Class” 

5.       At “Add Class” page, give your class a name. Choose if your class is public or private. If it is private, only you and your students will have access to class material. If it is public, your students can share their work with the entire NewsActivist network.  

6.       Ask students to sign up by telling them to go to NewsActivist.com, and at registration they will be able to choose your class. Allow students to choose pseudonyms, or they can use their real names. Tell them to choose a pseudonym you can recognize. Make sure your students follow instructions to click a link in their email to validate their memberships. They must do this for you to be able to let them into your class (see step 7).

7.       Go to your class page and approve your students who have requested to join the site, which will let them publish content to the site.  

8.   Give students an assignment. Take into account whether you expect the students to publish their assignment responses publicly or just within your own class page. Students can mark content they submit as public (which only they can see), they can “share only with the class”, or “share only with her friends”  (these are people the student has said can view her otherwise unpublished content).

9. If you choose, coordinate feedback assignments with another class, by going to the “Teacher’s Lounge” and browsing the “Collaboration Planning Forum”. See what teachers are looking for collaborative partners or start a thread explaining what your class is doing. Consider the ideal class whom you'd like your students to interact with- a specific geographic location? A specific course with distinct but overlapping issue?.

10.  If you choose, talk to a teacher who has used NewsActivist about curriculum issues. English, Humanities, Ethics, Business, Foreign Language and Sociology profs are willing to share best practices. Some have shared bios and others are discoverable in the teacher's lounge.

Enjoy! Tell us what we can do to make this site a better tool for you and your students.

Testimonials 

Dr. Nancy Decker, SUNY Ulster Assistant Professor of Biology

I just had to take the time to tell you how much my students (and I) absolutely loved using the site. The conversations they had with each other and the amount of enrichment in content by the responses to comments was exactly what I'd hoped for. I used it as a final project. When I  polled the students for their opinion of the class the only negative they had was that we didn't use newsactivist from the very beginning of the semester. Thanks for your timely responses and for the wonderful user friendly site. Hats off to you!

Stephen Hawkins, PhD, Champlain College, Saint-Lambert, Humanities Professor

One of the challenges in teaching Ethics is to get students to take responsibility for their views on contentious social issues. In the classroom, I like students to feel free to experiment, try out new lines of argument, play the devil’s advocate, etc., but I don’t want them to forget that taking a stance on ethical questions is serious business. I thought that asking them to blog at NewsActivist might help in this regard. The prospect of feedback from real people situated elsewhere in the world encourages students to look critically at their own assumptions, to take more care in formulating their ideas, and to see how ethical debates are shaped by – and give shape to – local experience. What we think and say about right and wrong has a payoff in the real world, and blogging at Newsactivist.com helps students to see that.

Eric KaldorPhD, SUNY Brockport, Associate Sociology Professor

I have found NewsActivist to be a surprisingly powerful tool for teaching writing and engaging students with critical issues and their own learning. NewsActivist provides a unique mechanism for students to receive feedback on their writing from students they could only connect with through NewsActivist. Whether students are counting ‘views’ or responding to one another, NewsActivist focuses students on writing for an audience. The opportunity for international collaboration means that dialogue can focus students on the challenges of intercultural communication.

Norm Spatz, CEGEP Vieux-Montreal, Business and ESL Professor

I discovered NewsActivist through my activities in Profweb and saw its potential as a tool to promote contact between my class and the class I was partnering with in a research project...What I didn’t foresee, however, was the exposure that NewsActivist offered my students. Once my students had made their posts, their information was available to a much wider community. Comments from native English speakers in English schools about the content of my students’ posts affirmed the value of their projects as well as the value of mastering a second language to open doors.

As well, I began establishing a community of practice with my research partner through the Teachers’ Lounge. This platform has allowed me to record my opinions for later reference as well as to find out how others are dealing with similar problems.   

Natalie GeukersNewsActivist Student Blogger, January- May 2013- 2013-2014- Social Media Representative, Champlain Student Association

I was much more motivated to write my blog posts then my regular essays because I knew some people would actually read it and my opinion could have a voice.  We could also see what other students thought of what we were doing or give our opinion on other people's posts whether we agreed or disagreed, which motivated me to write better posts.  I got to work on a subject that really matters to me and it made me care about it even more.

Anonymous Student Testimonials

“Getting to choose my own topic and commenting on other people made me feel like a journalist and that my opinion mattered.” 

“English is my 2nd language so I liked being able to take my time and come up with an answer.”

“We are a technologically advanced generation and the education system should recognize that”

“ I liked seeing what other people thought…  it helped me understand issues in new ways .”

“I took more time thinking about what I was writing because I knew people could check my facts…I don’t usually worry about that.”

I think it is a great way to encourage students to participate since you get lots of comments and feedback. It is also great because you can see others people work!”

The site and its workflow and taxonomy was created by Gabe Flacks, the site's founder and general moderator.  Each class which is hosted on the site is moderated by the teacher who created the class. All users maintain the site’s integrity by creating constructive content and commentary. See Terms and Conditions for more detail

 

The site was originally implemented by Omar Bickell in the summer of 2012, and has been developed with the help of Bryan Hidalgo since October, 2012.

  • If content is marked as public, it is visible across the site.
  • If it is marked as private, content is  only visible to members of the class to which the content is  submitted. 
  • If a student wishes to submit content that is only visible to the creator of the class (the teacher), the student can mark the content as shared  only with friends. The teacher can be the student's only friend, hence nobody else but the the student and teacher will be able to see that content.
  • Private classes or public classes can be hosted at this site.
  • Private classes and all content submitted to the class will only be visible to students accepted by the teacher into the class
  • Public classes are visible on the "Classes" page and content submitted in this class will be visible to the public
  • The site’s administrators have access to all content submitted to the site, whether marked public or private.
  • See terms and conditions for more details.

Register as a teacher and you will have access to the teacher’s lounge where all kinds of resources are available, including a forum to find teachers to partner with from around the world.

The following list of NewsActivist teachers are available to help you get started using and developing curriculum for this site. Feel free to contact the teacher you think is best suited for your particular pedagogical goals.

 

Gabriel Flacks, Site Founder and Director

Champlain Saint-Lambert- Humanities-I am the founder and designer of NewsActivist, a site that is the product of a desire to help my students feel both connected to the global community and empowered to change the news they read.  In 2013-2014, I am the coordinator of the Champlain College, Saint-Lambert Humanities Department and a PhD student in cognitive science. I use NewsActivist to supplement my Ethics courses and a complementary course about media and civic engagement, NewsActivism. My mission is to get each person to discover a particular skill that can be used to solve problems that personally resonate. By connecting students across borders and valuing each student’s unique interests and skill-set, my classes are unique, exciting and contemporary. Using this site places writing in a real-world context and allows communication with peers who can give feedback in the familiar context of a social network. Each semester, I am gratified as many of my students have moved from passive news-readers to NewsActivists who critically engage with the news and feel capable of positively affecting the world.

 

Nicole Fournier-Sylvester 

I am a humanities teacher at Champlain College in Quebec and PhD student at the Education Department of Concordia University. As a teacher and researcher my particular interest is on developing tools and strategies to facilitate the deliberative skills and civic engagement of youth.  My current course titles include Education & Social Change,Democracy & Cultural Diversity and Ethics for the Social Sciences.

I have been using NewsActivist to meet a variety of curriculum goals.  For example, I have my students engage with current events by posting summaries of news articles and responding to other students' summaries. 

I am currently working on curriculum designed to supplement a college level course on ethical issues.  If you have questions about curriculum development for NewsActivist or would like to see examples of some of the curriculum and grading keys that I have developed please do not hesitate to contact me at newsactivistnic@gmail.com

Eric Kaldor

SUNY College at Brockport – Sociology

I have been teaching courses like Introduction to Sociology, Development & Globalization, and Work & for many years now. I use NewsActivist.com to encourage my students to engage in conversations about cultural difference while reflecting on topics they care deeply about. I am particularly interested in using these dialogues to increase student engagement in their own learning process.

Students using this site have had fantastic conversations using the posting and commenting interface. With teacher oversight of content, quality is (to some extent) guaranteed. However, we recommend you spend time with your students introducing them to the site and your standards for student work before they get posting. Check out some of their powerful public dialogues that took place here in 2012-2013:

 

That is, in part, up to you. If you are teaching a class where blogging about the news would help meet your pedagogical goals, then this site will enable the richest experience for your students, with an optional audience of other students, and privacy control for each student.

In the spring of 2013, teachers from Quebec and New York colleges (Champlain College St Lambert, Vieux Montreal, Heritage College, Edouard-Montpetit, Vanier) and Universities (SUNY Brockport, Fairleigh-Dickinson University) in the disciplines of Ethics, Sociology, Humanities, Composition, Business and French and English as a second-language used this site to enhance their students’ experiences by allowing them to converse and collaborate across campuses.  

Please, feel free to try this site out a. Our goal is to have students all over the globe writing about the world in constructive dialogues that lead to understanding and engagement with course content and the world outside the classroom. 

Explore student work that has been made public. Look at some impressive and unique writing to see how naturally and effectively students collaborate and communicate ond and across campuses using this site.

Register as a teacher to add your class page and access the Teacher’s Forum where you can find, among other things, a collaborative partner.