Flipping Tip: Academic Controversy

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." - Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Blackboard Mobile Learn Discussion ForumDr. Karen Card of the University of South Dakota taught me how to use academic controversy to engage students. And it works extremely well!

I've experimented with online, face-to-face, and blended teaching for over thirty years. One thing I've learned is that motivated students do well and unmotivated students don't. So the question constantly on my mind is how can I motivate my student?

Academic controversy engages students by inviting them to share their personal thoughts, feelings, and reflections on issues they care about. There are plenty to choose from on any given day; healthcare, taxes, war, terrorism, political campaigning, and capital punishment are just a sample. 

Be careful . This is a powerful motivator so begin by setting the ground rules. 

Students need to have some skin in the game so make participation worth points toward final grades. How many? It doesn't seem to matter how heavily you weight participation as long as it has some value. The points say "this matters".

Minimize the hazards of open discussion by defining good conversational behavior. There are a number of websites outlining proper netiquette. Pick one and share it with your class.

You must set the topics. It's an easy task if you watch the news. Just pick a story!

Set the stage by sharing video of news reports or documentaries. You'll find plenty of video clips on YouTube which you can easily embed into your course website. Blackboard and Edmodo are excellent choices because they both offer mobile apps for the Learning Management Systems. 

Then simply ask your students what they think about the issue presented. Phrase the question so it is relates to your course but be careful not to constrain the conversation too much.

Your opinion doesn't matter so keep it to yourself. This is an activity for the students. Your job is to monitor the discussion so you can keep it on track and respectful. In other words, your role is that of a traffic cop. You can infuse third-party thoughts such as Presidential commentary or editorials into the conversation to keep it from going too far off into the weeds. Any other contribution from you risks shutting down the conversation because your students see you as an authority figure. 

Discussions can take place in class or online. My preference is to use an online discussion board. This allows students to participate anytime, anywhere and provides plenty of time for reflection. New mobile apps like Blackboard Mobile Learn and Edmodo Mobile make it easier than ever for your students to participate.

Beware! Sometimes this technique works too well so it's always a good idea to let your administration know what you are doing ahead of time. You don't need them being caught off guard.


Academic controversy is a powerful technique for engaging students. 

Sent from my iPad

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Dr. Winegar is available to help your organization wisely use technology. Email him directly at mark.winegar@mac.com or visit www.facebook.com/MobileLearningStudio.