Creating online structured academic controversies

American Society for Engineering Education
Publication Type:
Conference Proceeding
Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition, 2004, pp. 1 - 8
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There have been calls within engineering practice and engineering education to develop within engineers a capacity to recognise and accommodate diverse and even competing perspectives within decision-making processes. To satisfy these needs an instructional technique called Structured Academic Controversy was modified for multi-party controversies and for use with internet mediated communication. The activity specifically seeks to promote multiple perspective-taking on a controversial science and technology public issue and to develop conflict management skills, critical thinking and collaborative skills. The technique has been used to explore controversy surrounding genetically modified foods, the provision of telecommunication infrastructure to meet regional needs, the role of e-Libraries and the damming of international rivers. Feedback from student surveys show that there was a high level of student agreement that the activity developed their awareness of the political, social, environmental and scientific dimensions of the issue discussed. There were also high levels of student satisfaction with the activity. However due to the high number of student postings and the threaded nature of the discussion forum some students found it difficult to interact with all the points raised and to sustain dialogue within a thread. These problems with online dialogue have also been found in other studies. The instructional technique described has been effective in allowing students to develop knowledge of contemporary issues and appreciate the impacts of engineering solutions.
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