Teaching death to undergraduates: Exploring the student experience of discussing emotive topics in the university classroom

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The experience of learning about emotive topics in the classroom remains relatively under-researched. Within the social sciences, death studies is undergoing a resurgence yet little is known about the student experience of exploring such issues in an academic setting. This research focuses on final year undergraduate students at a British university who have chosen to study a module on the Sociology of Death and Dying. Qualitative data from eleven semi-structured interviews were analysed, revealing several key areas of experiential and pedagogical interest, highlighting how students use each other’s experiences as well as their own vulnerabilities to engage with emotive topics. The data also explored the role of the tutor as an emotional safety net in such classes and the extent to which trigger warnings should be ensconced in university teaching. The emergent themes from these interviews are used to address the question of what are student perceptions of the experience and value of death education. They also enable me to critically examine existing academic assumptions associated with dealing with emotive topics in the classroom and provide reflections on the extent of universities’ and lecturers’ duty of care in such settings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)470-486
JournalEducational Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2019

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