Innovative Higher Education

, 31:175 | Cite as

When Topics are Controversial: Is it Better to Discuss Them Face-to-Face or Online?

  • Katrina A. Meyer


Ten students in a graduate-level course on Historical and Policy Perspectives in Higher Education held face-to-face and online discussions on five controversial topics: diversity, academic freedom, political tolerance, affirmative action, and gender. Upon completion of each discussion, they assessed their comfort, honesty, concern for others’ feelings, similarity of feelings to others, and willingness to disagree and then compared the face-to-face and online discussions on these measures. Students’ assessments are complex and indicate that some topics did elicit feelings of discomfort, concern for others’ feelings, and willingness to disagree in the face-to-face discussions. However, despite these feelings, the majority of students continued to prefer the face-to-face discussions. Online discussions were valued to a lesser extent, but a consistent minority of students were more comfortable in that setting. The age and race of the student also created differences in responses.

Key words

face-to-face discussions online discussions age race controversy 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LeadershipThe University of MemphisMemphisUSA

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