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A Teaching Technique for Exploring Multiple Perspectives

There are many teaching techniques that get students engaged by having them discuss and apply course content. Using case studies, having students role-play, and employing cooperative learning strategies are a few examples.

Cases are narratives that address realistic issues, based on actual events or contrived, that provide a basis for student discussion.

Role-playing has students assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative.

The Jigsaw technique is a cooperative learning strategy that has students interacting with others in groups to develop and refine their understanding of some issue. Students meet in a home group, disperse to join different second groups, and then reconvene in their home groups (thus, the jigsaw designation).

The following teaching technique, created by a journalism professor at the University of Hawai'i (Brislin, 1995), is a combination of the above and can be used with any topic having multiple perspectives. It involves some preparation and will probably take an entire class period so it is not a technique to be used without careful planning or one that would be used many times during the semester.

  1. Assign a case for the students to read (with supporting documents if desired) that provides sufficient information on the topic to allow for a rich discussion. This could be a hypothetical case that you have written, one that you constructed based on some news event, or one that you acquired through some educational resource.
  2. In class, create equal sized groups of 4-6 students. The number of groups depends on the number of perspectives that could be taken in the case. Assign each group member a number.
  3. Assign each group a role based on the characters in the case and/or the different perspectives. It is probably best not to assign the roles prior to class to ensure that each student has the broadest understanding of the case.
  4. Each group discusses the case from their assigned character or perspective. Allow up to 10 minutes for this activity.
  5. Reorganize groups by student number so that the resulting new groups have at least one member from each perspective.
  6. Students in these new "jigsaw" groups argue the case for 20 minutes by presenting the perspective of the role they are playing while also listening to and considering the perspectives of the others.
  7. Students then return to their original groups and share the perspectives they received in their jigsaw groups that may have made them rethink their original position. Allow up to 10 minutes for this activity.
  8. The exercise could culminate with a class discussion about the topic. A short position paper could also be assigned whereby each student, having now heard multiple perspectives on the issue, would write about what stance or action he or she would personally take in this case writing the paper as themselves and not the role that they played.

This technique lends itself well to disciplines that can address multiple points of view whether the issue is medical, environmental, political, economic, ethical, or some other discipline-specific topic.

Example: Case on sustainable development discussed from the perspectives of an environmentalist, a citizen of a developing country, an executive from an oil company, an economist, and an American citizen.

Brislin, T. (1995). Active learning in applied ethics instruction. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching. 6 (3): 87-95.