Q&A: Expressing Opinions Without Conflict

Answer: Whether you are in high school or college, most teachers encourage students to express themselves and those opinions that are relevant to academic and classroom topics. When doing so, it shows you are reading and reviewing the materials and that you are serious about being a student. It is great for everyone in the the class to be able to share ideas and express their opinions. However, there are times when others might become offended or when we, ourselves, might be the offenders.

Everyone is passionate or sensitive about something and there are certain topics that can be "hot" for many people. These topics (in no certain order) can be religion, politics, family and personal experiences. We should always be aware of how we are communicating with others in an online academic environment, especially if we know we are broaching those sensitive subjects.

Regardless of the topic or subject, students shouldn't fear sharing their opinions and ideas. The best approach is to always maintain respect. This means having self-respect, respect for the instructor, fellow students and respect for the class itself. When sharing a proven fact that you've researched, you should cite your source by referencing the book, article or website that it comes from. If you are expressing your opinion, you should begin your sentence/paragraph with a phrase that explains that you're sharing your thoughts or feelings. Here are some examples of phrases you could use to start your discussion:

  • "In my opinion…"
  • "It's been my experience…"
  • "It's my belief…"
  • "I believe … because I've experienced…"

Using one of the above lead-ins, lets readers know that you are expressing yourself, based on your own values, morals, beliefs and experiences. It's important to remember that it's not our job to classify someone else's beliefs as right or wrong no matter how we may feel about their statements. However, we can respectfully disagree. Below are some examples of how we can express disagreement while also remaining respectful.

  • "I appreciate your view of religion. However, I disagree about … based on my own experience with …"
  • "Thank you for being so open about your political views. We don't agree on the importance of the same policies, but I appreciate your opinion."
  • "That was an interesting story you've shared about your experience in the medical field. I've also worked in the field for a short-time and I didn't have any of those issues."

Again, if everyone puts forth the effort to be respectful in an online environment, students will feel more comfortable addressing topics and engaging with others, especially when opinions do start to differ.

Dr. Beverley BrowningDr. Beverly A. Browning (Dr. Bev) has been a higher education adjunct faculty member for over 25 years. She has taught in the classroom and online for multiple colleges and universities including the Spring Arbor College, Baker College of Flint, Mott Community College, and Rio Salado College. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan, Spring Arbor College and Mott Community College. She is currently an online instructor for ed2go.com (Cengage Learning). In addition to founding and directing the Grant Writing Training Foundation, Dr. Bev is also Vice President of Grants Professional Services for eCivis, Inc. She is the author over over 37 grant-related publications and a frequent keynote speaker and workshop presenter for national and regional conferences. Dr. Bev is a product of lifelong learning and an advocate for online teaching and learning!