Controversial Topics: How to Post in Discussion Forums with Prudence

College is all about sharing ideas, considering different points of view and understanding others.

And then, students stumble into the landmine filled class post of a controversial subject.

Tempers can flare. Feelings can be hurt. What is the best way to navigate an online discussion for a potentially volatile subject?

Remember that college is about sharing ideas, considering different points of view and understanding others.

“I really tend to think students here support each other and these online discussions facilitate them being more supportive of each other,” said Instructor Jenny Heilborn.

Heilborn teaches psychology and sociology, two subjects full of controversial, what-if scenarios that can leave even professionals with their emotions barely in check. Keeping focused on the topic, not your feelings about the topic can help keep your posts professional.

“In one course we discussed universal health care and I was worried about students becoming polarized but they were very good in the discussions,” she said. “I encourage them to be less personal in their response and instead talk about the pros and cons of the topic. We really are not there to discuss their personal political belief system.”

Heilborn said in a decade’s time she has only had to approach a student once about the appropriateness of their response in a discussion board.

“Usually they are very respectful. They say, ‘I disagree and this is why’. For the most part they are very good. We don’t tolerate rudeness.”

Heilborn said she encourages students to critique each other’s theories.

“As long as they are backing up their arguments with research we can have a great, open discussion,” she said.