STLHE 2015 has ended
Achieving Harmony: Tuning into Practice
Thursday, June 18 • 3:00pm - 3:30pm
CON07.01 - Teaching controversial issues: A pilot workshop

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This presentation describes a pilot workshop designed to support Faculty of Arts instructors interested in fine tuning their approaches to teaching controversial subject matter. Critical thinking and democratic engagement skills are frequently cited as graduate attributes for liberal arts programs, and conversations about controversial issues can provide a strategic site for the development of these skills (Brookfield & Preskill, 2005; Hess, 2009). However, as the university is increasingly populated by informed, political, diverse students who are engaged learners, questions of what might count as controversial and for whom arise (Flinders University, n.d.), along with potential classroom management challenges for instructors (Fournier-Sylvester, 2013). This case-study based workshop was designed and delivered by two faculty members, the director of a university equity office and an educational development consultant. In this session, a description of the pilot and its context, and lessons learned from its evaluation will be presented. Discussion of why and how we might best support faculty across a range of disciplines in their teaching of controversial issues will also be invited. By the end of the session participants will be able to:
• Discuss the rising importance of offering support for the teaching of controversial subjects in the post secondary setting
• Identify context-specific issues and approaches to fine tuning teaching practices on controversial topics within various disciplines
Recent public debates about free versus hate speech suggest that our teaching practices around controversies stand to make a difference well beyond the academy. As the conference theme suggests, providing a classroom space for controversies to occur can be transformative for ourselves and our students.


Brookfield, S.D., & Preskill, S. (2005). Discussion as a way of teaching: Tools and techniques for democratic classrooms. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Flinders University. (n.d.). Theory into practice strategies: Inclusive practices for managing controversial issues. Retrieved from http://www.flinders.edu.au/equalopportunity_files/documents/cdip/TIPS_controversial.pdf_x000D_

Fournier-Sylvester, N. (2013). Daring to debate: Strategies for teaching controversial issues in the classroom. College Quarterly, 16(3), 1-7. 

Hess, Diana E. (2009). Controversy in the classroom: The democratic power of discussion. New York: Routledge.


Carol Berenson (University of Calgary)

Educational Develpment Consultant, University of Calgary

Thursday June 18, 2015 3:00pm - 3:30pm PDT
Bayshore Salon D

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