Posted on March 2, 2010 by Dylan Anderson

Robin Galenza speaks to Aruna Srivastava and Bill Hackborn about their upcoming colloquium. 12:30 p.m. March 8, C-014

By Robin Galenza –

University of Calgary Professor Aruna Srivastava and Augustana Professor Bill Hackborn will explore the issue of dissent in the classroom at the next Faculty Colloquium on March 8th.

Srivastava will discuss the topic within the context of the classroom in general. She will point out to students and professors some of the ways to encourage discussion and debate, as both are generally afraid to dissent. Professors teach the way they were taught, and they are afraid to step out of line for fear they will face consequences on their student evaluations or from administrators.

“Dissenting classrooms can be chaotic and uncomfortable. We confuse giving up power with not having authority in the classroom: we think we cannot manage it,” Srivastava explains. “Students are of the belief that this is our job. We convey material and don’t expect them to think critically about it. Students resist dissenting as much as professors.”

Srivastava hopes this idea, which she uses in her own classrooms, will spread. She utilizes long-term group work, independent online research and spends very little time lecturing to the students. This allows room for the students to form and question their own opinions.

“Universities were the few spaces designed for critical thinking and now we have lost that,” she adds.

After Srivastava, Hackborn will address what dissent might look like in a mathematics classroom, where the subject matter seems to be factual. He will also discuss the dissenting role of mathematical physicist Galileo in the scientific revolution, as well as the case of Denis Rancourt, a physics professor at the University of Ottawa who was recently fired from his position. He was dismissed for awarding a grade of A+ to his entire fourth-year physics class, but university administrators were upset by Rancourt’s teaching style long before this event.

“Science has become status quo and it is good to question that,” Hackborn says. “What started out as a radical movement against established ideas and authority has become rather safe and conservative. Conflict in the classroom is important, especially when it helps students question the social consequences of the material they are learning.”

The lecture will be held on March 8th in room C014 and will go from 12:30 to about 1:30 p.m. Faculty and students are encouraged to attend the lecture to hear more about how they can encourage and engage in conflict in the classroom.

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