Design Piracy: Student Perceptions of a Constructive Controversy Activity

Article excerpt

Optimal learning occurs when students are interested in the subject matter, are motivated with challenging and quality learning opportunities, and when immersed in atmospheres that make learning enjoyable. One technique to promote optimal learning is through the use of constructive controversies. The purpose of this study was to provide an example of a constructive controversy and to explore student perceptions regarding the learning format. The respondents (n=126 undergraduates) engaged in the constructive controversy assignment and completed a questionnaire to assess variables including new thinking, enjoyment, and demographic information. Regression analysis indicated that new thinking as a result of participation in the constructive controversy was a unique predictor of enjoyment. The findings suggested that students were actively engaged in the topic and constructed knowledge through the synthesizing of information. The activity allowed students the opportunity to practice the general skills of inquiry, communication, critical thinking, and problem solving. Implications of this study point to the advisability of including the constructive controversy activity into learning activities in higher education.

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According to educational psychology, optimal learning occurs when students are interested in the subject matter, are motivated with challenging and quality learning opportunities, and when immersed in atmospheres that make learning enjoyable. (Barr & Tagg, 1995; Ediger, 2001; Wingspread Group on Higher Education, 1993). According to L. Dee Fink (2003) significant learning experiences in well-designed college courses challenge students to higher levels of learning such as decision making and critical and creative thinking; utilize active forms of learning such as problem solving; and provide a structured sequence of different learning activities, such as lecture, discussions, small groups, and writing that support different kinds of learning goals and styles. One technique to promote optimal learning is through the use of constructive controversies, as first reported by Johnson and Johnson in Joining together: Group theory and group skills (Johnson & Johnson, 2003). Constructive controversy is, "an instructional procedure that combines cooperative learning (in which students work together in small groups to develop a report on an assigned topic) with structured intellectual conflict (in which students argue the pro and con positions on an issue in order to stimulate problem-solving and reasoned judgment)" (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 2000, 29).

Purpose of Study

The purpose of this study was 1) to present a lesson utilizing the constructive controversy format that can be used in many disciplines including but not limited to economics, ethics, and textiles and apparel studies and 2) to present student perceptions regarding the constructive controversy format.

Constructive Controversy

Format

In the constructive controversy format, the instructor assigns students to groups of four, divides each group into two pairs, and then states the constructive controversy topic. The cooperative goal is for each student to reach a deeper understanding of the matter at hand. One pair of students in each group is given the assignment of developing and advocating for the best case possible of the pro position, while the other pair of students does the same for the con position. The instructor supervises as the pairs discuss the issue, construct persuasive arguments for their position, and refute the opposing position while rebutting attacks on their own. After consulting with their partners and arguing their positions, the pairs reverse perspectives; the proponents of a viewpoint became the opponents and vice versa. Students then seek an agreement that synthesizes both positions. The instructor monitors the groups to facilitate discussion and listen to students' arguments and perspective reversals (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 2000). …