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