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Project Title:Teaching Controversial Issues: A media based approach
Contact:Dr Alan Smith
Address:Speak your Piece
School of Education
University of Ulster
Cromore Road
BT52 1SA
Telephone:01265 324202
Fax:01265 324918


Speak your Piece is a research and development project on the teaching of controversial issues. It is housed in the School of Education at the University of Ulster at Coleraine. In partnership with Channel 4 Schools, the project's chief resource is a television series of five programmes which explore controversial aspects of social, religious and political life in Northern Ireland. The project team consists of it's Director, Dr Alan Smith, two project officers supported by PSEP funds, Alan McCully and Marian O'Doherty, and a youth officer, Paul Smyth, supported by funding from the Youth Council of Northern Ireland.

In its work with young people the project has adopted three principles:

* Enabling dialogue which is forthright and inclusive
* Providing alternatives to violence and avoidance as a way of resolving conflict
* Facilitating participatory decision-making which encourages democratic processes.

Guided by these principles the project has objectives in five main areas:

* development work with teachers and Youth workers
* production of support materials
* an information technology dimension
* dissemination of the series and associated teaching approaches
* evaluation.


Work with two pilot groups, consisting of twenty teachers and youth workers, respectively to:

* examine the personal, social and institutional contexts in which practitioners work with regard to cultural and political issues.

* explore and identify effective approaches to teaching controversial issues.

* apply the specialisms of members of the pilot groups to teaching controversial issues through areas such as history, media studies, religious education, political education and peer education.

This work has involved the project team in running in-service courses including an overnight residential for each pilot group.

Support Materials

Work in this area has taken the following forms. The:

* production of the Off the Wall series by UTV on behalf of Channel 4

* publication of an accompanying booklet, Exploring Controversial Issues, which outlines the philosophy behind Speak your Piece and offers teaching approaches which encompass the thinking of the project and its pilot practitioners to date.

* preparation of background materials for inclusion on the Internet if resources become available

* development of a pack for the training of peer educators in community relations work.

It is also intended to draw together the full experiences of the practitioners in the pilot groups to produce guidance which takes forward the pedagogy of handling controversial issues.

Information Technology

The project has sought to use information technology in innovative ways to inform and challenge young people when exploring controversial issues, and to enable an exchange of views. The project supports a BT Campus World computer conference which gives young people the opportunity to engage in dialogue on the key subjects featured in the TV programmes, identity, culture, religion and politics. The conference is moderated by Dr Duncan Morrow of the Politics Department, University of Ulster.


The project has sought to disseminate its work systematically using existing structures when appropriate. This has taken the form of:

* partnerships with four Education and Library Boards to run in-service days for Board Officers, teachers and youth workers;

-NEELB 5; 2 for youth worker, 1 for secondary teachers, 2 for primary teachers
-SELB 2; 1 for teachers and youth workers, a follow up for youth workers
-BELB 1; for teachers and youth workers
-WELB 1; for teachers and youth workers
* a half day training session for officers of CCEA

* the preparation of an MSc programme in Education and Contemporary Society at the University of Ulster to begin in October 1997

* presentations to conferences and workshops in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, England, Spain, Israel and Bosnia

* papers/chapters to academic books/journals

* training teachers and youth workers to use computer conferencing.


The project has incorporated evaluation strategies into its work as the project has progressed:

* observation and analysis of classroom youth work practise

* evaluations by young people in schools and youth settings

* two sets of interviews with 10 pilot group teachers conducted by an independent evaluator

* use of ELB course evaluations to monitor Inset work.

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