Summer reading has long been an activity synonymous with books considered classics, but this summer incoming freshmen at one Massachusetts college were asked to read the newspaper in lieu of a novel, the Boston Globe reports.

Students preparing to attend the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., were asked to read a newspaper, post interesting articles to an online forum, and use the forum to discuss those articles with their classmates. Faculty members hope the untraditional assignment will expand students' understanding of the world, improve their writing and critical thinking skills, and help them connect with one another.

I wanted them to know that it can be a social event to read the paper and share these stories, says Nancy Baldiga, dean of the freshman class and an associate professor of economics. She initiated the idea and named it the Class of 2013 Paper Project.

Last summer, incoming Holy Cross students were asked to read the autobiography of St. Ignatius of Loyola. This year, students have debated important national issues like President Barack Obama's proposed healthcare reforms, Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court, and lowering the drinking age. Students also have posted articles on less weighty subjects, like a bee infestation, a study on redheads' sensitivity to pain, and an Irish band founded by one student's high school classmates.

Holy Cross is one of several colleges who have swapped typical summer reading exercises for more unconventional ones. Incoming freshman at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., were asked to watch a documentary; new students at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., were asked to read a graphic novel; those attending the University of Pennsylvania this fall were asked to study a 19th century painting.

It's a better idea than just being told, 'OK, you need to read A Farewell to Arms, says Mia Huntley, a Holy Cross freshman from Andover who reads the papers for arts coverage. The posts have exposed me to different topics that I may not have had any interest or desire to learn about before.