Feed on

This week’s blogpost is twofold. It reminds you that this is a great time to solicit early-semester feedback from your students, and serves as the first in a four-part series on teaching controversial topics. 


Gathering Early-Semester Feedback

You are likely approaching the point in the semester at which you begin to develop a rhythm. Before that rhythm becomes too much of a routine and time slips away, take advantage of the chance to solicit early-semester feedback from your students. 


The Kaneb Center has several resources to help you do so. Our blog archive has many short posts on collecting early-semester feedback, including why and how to do so, what type of questions to ask, how to evaluate the results, and how to use them.


This handout summarizes the rationale for soliciting early-semester feedback, strategies for doing so, and resources for further reference. 


The Kaneb Center is also happy to review your questions and administer Qualtrics surveys for you. 


Finally, you are invited to attend our workshop on soliciting early-semester feedback this week on Wednesday, September 18. 


Teaching Controversial Topics

Instructors often steer clear of controversial topics because they are not confident of their ability to handle them well. This is understandable, given the many ways that engaging with such topics can go awry. But there are also two reasons it is worth engaging these topics anyway: 


  • First, controversial topics are likely to interest students. One of the most effective ways to engage students in course material is to bridge to it from something they are already care about. Controversial issues pique student interest almost by definition, since they are sensitive, emotionally charged, or the subject of strong disagreement. 


  • Second, the college classroom can be an excellent venue for students to learn how to engage more productively with controversial topics. Students who hold unreflective views about these topics will benefit from the opportunity to reflect critically on their positions in conversation–whether face to face or mediated by course texts–with those who disagree with them. This critical reflection may also help students develop ethical reasoning skills which will serve them well as they navigate controversial issues for the rest of their lives. 


However, the specific way that the college classroom fosters more productive engagement with controversial issues will depend at least in part on the framework you adopt as the instructor. Three pedagogical frameworks for engaging with controversial issues are prominent in higher education today: 


  • Liberation Pedagogy: Because the classroom is enmeshed in the world’s problems, students should relate their experiences to those problems so they can gain a new understanding of their relationship to the world. (cf. Paulo Freire, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed)


  • Civic Humanism: Teachers should aim to develop moral and civic virtues in their students, to prepare them to be responsible citizens. (cf. Derek Bok, Our Underachieving Colleges



  • Academic Detachment: Teachers should analyze controversial topics in a detached fashion because the purpose of academia is to evaluate competing arguments rather than to determine what course of action to take. (cf. Stanley Fish, “Tip to Professors: Just Do Your Job”)


Before you teach a controversial topic, reflect on which of these frameworks you will adopt. You may also prefer to glean aspects from multiple frameworks and develop your own personal framework. In next month’s post we’ll consider how instructors can develop a classroom environment conducive to productive engagement with controversial issues. 



“Teaching Controversial Topics.” Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. Yale University. Accessed September 13, 2019. https://poorvucenter.yale.edu/teaching/ideas-teaching/teaching-controversial-topics.

“Why Teach Controversial Issues?” Teaching Quality at Flinders. Flinders University. Accessed September 13, 2019. https://www.flinders.edu.au/teaching/quality/teaching-methods/teaching-controversial-issues/why-teach-controversial-issues.cfm.

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