Navigating Controversial Topics in the Classroom
If your syllabus includes controversial topics, you will want to plan and anticipate difficult and emotional classroom discussions. Discussions may consist of multiple phases such as the initial discussion, a potential need to restore community (during or after), and self-reflection. Remember always that your role is to facilitate an inclusive learning environment for your students.
Download CELT’s Navigating controversial topics in the classroom (PDF)
Read and bookmark the Helping Students Manage Traumatic Events page
Review the Managing Disruptive Conduct in Learning Spaces page
Incorporate guidelines for the learning environment
- Be proactive. Use the recommendations shared on the Managing Disruptive Conduct in Learning Spaces page.
- Engage with ISU Principles of Community. Consider using the ISU Principles of Community, “Students are responsible for living the tenets established in ISU’s Principles of Community: Respect, Purpose, Cooperation, Richness of Diversity, Freedom from discrimination, and the Honest and respectful expression of ideas. Visit ISU’s Principles of Community website (https://www.diversity.iastate.edu/connect/principles).
- Interact in synchronous and asynchronous settings. To provide a foundation for civility in the online learning environment, we promote the following Netiquette at ISU (https://www.celt.iastate.edu/netiquette-at-isu/) for general guidelines when communicating in this course.
Use strategies to facilitate discussion
- Use the syllabus throughout the course. remind your students of the guidelines for the learning environment covered in your syllabus, and not on just the first day. See the strategies located on the Creating an Inclusive & Learner-Centered Syllabus page.
- Implement facilitation strategies. Choose one or more strategy to use from CELT’s Navigating controversial topics in the classroom (PDF).
- Know what to do. If you run into situations that may escalate into an unresolved conflict in your learning environment:
- If a threat or an emergency, do not hesitate to call ISU Police at 911 or 515-294-4428.
- Review Managing Disruptive Conduct in Learning Spaces.
- You and your department chair or supervisor may also consult with the Office of Student Conduct, Student Assistance, or Office of Equal Opportunity.
- Incorporate effective practices located on the Be Identity-Conscious page.
- Ask students to think about how their reactions. mirror the subject at hand and what they might learn about the topic from their experience. To help frame the reactions, use the questions located on the Discussions instructional strategies page.
- Ask students for feedback about the course regularly. Consider using Brookfield’s (2012) Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ) to discover the effects your teaching has on students and determine the emotional highs and lows of their learning. Using the CIQ gives you a running commentary on the emotional tenor of each class.
Navigating controversial topics in the classroom, webinar recording
Many instructors consciously avoid controversial issues in the classroom because of the difficulty involved in managing heated discussions. However, controversy can be a useful, powerful, and memorable tool to promote learning. This conversation will provide instructors with resources to facilitate classroom discussions around controversial issues, including the O.T.F.D. (Open The Front Door) and A.C.T.I.O.N. communication frameworks. For this webinar, download CELT’s Navigating controversial topics in the classroom (PDF) Note: This webinar is an additional workshop on teaching inclusively.
Watch the Navigating controversial topics in the classroom Studio video (14m 55s)
Navigating controversial topics in the classroom, by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Iowa State University is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0. This work, Navigating controversial topics in the classroom, is a derivative of Managing hot moments developed by Harvard University‘s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning retrieved (November 1, 2016) from http://bokcenter.harvard.edu/managing-hot-moments-classroom