Teaching Controversial Topics in the Humanities and Social Sciences in Ireland: Using Structured Academic Controversy to Develop Multi-Perspectivity in the Learner

  • Jennifer Bruen Dublin City University
  • Veronica Crosbie Dublin City University
  • Niamh Kelly Dublin City University
  • Maria Loftus Dublin City University
  • Agnes Maillot Dublin City University
  • Aine McGillicuddy Dublin City University
  • Juliette Pechenart Dublin City University

Abstract

Purpose: This study had two main objectives: The first was to explore the extent to which a group of University lecturers feel that they are prepared to deal with controversial issues in their classrooms. The second was to elicit their views on a didactic approach known as Structured Academic Controversy (SAC). SAC is a constructivist teaching strategy intended to aid the learner in developing their views on controversial issues and in understanding alternative views with the ultimate aim of locating a compromise position.

Method: A qualitative intervention was designed to introduce six university academics from diverse specialisms to SAC by way of reflective engagement with it in the role of learners.

Findings: The participants in this study deal with controversial issues frequently and several feel ill-prepared to do so. They identified several challenges associated with the use of SAC. These relate primarily to class size and curricular overload. However, despite the challenges, the participants all recognized the potential value of such approaches in developing multi-perspectivity, critical thinking, listening and negotiating skills in the learner. Future larger-scale, longitudinal studies in a variety of cultural contexts are needed to develop approaches which can facilitate those approaching controversial issues in their classrooms.

Author Biographies

Jennifer Bruen, Dublin City University

Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Senior Lecturer, School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies

Dublin City University

Veronica Crosbie, Dublin City University
Lecturer, School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies
Niamh Kelly, Dublin City University
Lecturer, School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies
Maria Loftus, Dublin City University
Lecturer, School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies
Agnes Maillot, Dublin City University
Lecturer, School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies
Aine McGillicuddy, Dublin City University
Lecturer, School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies
Juliette Pechenart, Dublin City University
Lecturer, School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies
Published
2016-10-12