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As a social science online instructor, I’ve seen my fair share of politically-charged discussion board posts. Especially these days. Hotly debated topics are welcomed by a lot of in-class instructors, as it livens the classroom environment and may help drive home some important learning objectives. However, hosting such discussions online can be a bit more treacherous, given the anonymity the online environment provides. If you view any kind of social media these days, you can see how much the web needs some etiquette standards!

I don’t know about general web standards (internet trolling seems to be a new cultural past time), but we can certainly set standards for discussing controversial or contentious topics in our classrooms. I found a resource to guide us in creating policies, procedures, and guidelines for discussing such topics.

Guidelines for Discussing Difficult or Controversial Topics

This article is published by the University of Michigan and offers guidelines for how to approach:

  • Unexpected, spontaneous contentious discussions
  • Planned discussions on controversial topics
  • Discussions that involve the instructors identity

This article does not speak directly to online discussions, but I found it to be translatable in many ways. What do you think of these guidelines? What are your experiences of hosting politically-charged online discussions? What tips might you share? I am going to post this email text over into a blog post on the AdjunctWorld page. Please feel free to comment, share, or discuss in the comment section at the bottom of the page!

4 Responses to “Hosting Contentious Discussions Online”

    • Brooke Shriner

      Thank you so much, Brian! I myself found your slideshow very helpful and I’m sure the rest of our community will too. I like the notion of “crisis as opportunity.”

  1. Eric McDowell

    Thank you for this, Brooke! I find that most of my online students shy away from discussing charged topics. I really have to encourage them and I stress that it’s a safe place for discussion, but they remain reluctant. I totally understand where they are coming from, so I try to build a classroom culture of trust. It’s an ongoing challenge!

    • Brooke Shriner

      Yes, the internet at large is troll city and we all have some shell shock from that I suppose! Its hard to build that trust, but sounds like you are doing what you can by helping set that safe stage.


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