Statement of purpose In a state where over half of households own a gun, college students are resistant to discuss the perils of gun ownership. This study compares two teaching strategies used to overcome this problem in an injury prevention class taught at a large state university in the Southeastern United States.
Methods/approach Students (˜35/semester) enrolled in an upper-level undergraduate injury prevention course. The format was hybrid (twice/week in-class, once/week online). The first semester, students read a chapter on gun violence, followed by an in-class discussion. The second semester, students watched an online gun violence panel discussion of experts and wrote a reflection. During the following in-class meeting, students discussed in small groups safety concerns of professors and students carrying guns on campus.
Results During the first semester, students were visibly uncomfortable, avoided talking about the topic, and indicated that they were not knowledgeable enough to discuss with peers. During the second semester, students reported learning a great deal from the online panel discussion and wrote thoughtful reflections. All groups concluded that the campus would not be safer if professors and students were allowed to carry guns. However, many stated that they might feel safer if professors carried guns, following safety training.
Conclusions Observing the panel discussion and reflecting privately provided a safe space for students to reconcile their previous held beliefs with evidence. Students clearly saw dangers of gun violence, not understood previously. In spite of evidence, the experience was not strong enough to undo the belief that armed professors would protect them and that safety training is enough to counterbalance the dangers of guns.
Significance/contributions Gun violence is infrequently discussed in undergraduate education. More research is needed to examine best teaching strategies to modify widely-held beliefs.
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