Part 8: Fall 2018 Labs

127 Trigger Warnings – 09.14.2018

Some of the most important topics to address in class are also the most difficult. At the September 17, 2018 Active Teaching Lab, participants explored how to navigate trigger warnings in online and face-to-face coursework that deals with sensitive issues. Attendees discussed strategies for maintaining a safe, inclusive Canvas course space while facilitating effective discussions on controversial or sensitive content.


  • Don’t shock to entertain: Be wary of incorporating shocking current events (e.g. homicide case) into course content for the sheer purpose of entertainment or discussion rather than pedagogical intention. Especially if the story is local, students may have a connection to the people involved.
  • Share upcoming content: It’s impossible to know what may trigger trauma. People often do not themselves know what will trigger them. A simple suggestion is to share ahead of time class content and agendas. This also aligns with good learning as it helps students cognitively prepare for class.
  • Don’t assume: Avoid stereotypes and assumptions about what students may or may not have experienced.
  • Provide natural breaks: Allowing individuals to step out before sensitive content may “out” those who have experienced trauma as outsiders. Announce engagement with sensitive content, and provide a break for all, so students can prepare or leave.
  • Consider hosting office hours over Skype or BBCollaborate Ultra (previously UltraConference) in Canvas to allow students to express concerns from the privacy and comfort of their home. Students often feel more at ease discussing sensitive topics and experiences from a familiar space.

For more information on the trigger warnings debate, visit the session’s activity sheet.


The Active Teaching Lab is a Faculty Engagement program with sessions held on Thursdays from 1:00-2:00pm (room 302) and Fridays from 8:30-9:45am (room 120) in the Middleton Building (1305 Linden Dr.) during fall 2018. Check out upcoming Labs or read the recaps from past Labs. We build interdisciplinary conversations that are more emergent than a presenter and more dynamic than a panel — a conversation with colleagues sharing challenges, solutions, and experiments on topics selected by a variety of stakeholders.

Sign up for regular Lab announcements by sending an email to


Active Teaching Lab eJournal Copyright © 2016 by DoIT Academic Technology and the UW-Madison Teaching Academy; Jennifer Hornbaker; John Martin; Julie Johnson; Karin Spader; Margaret Merrill; Margaret Murphy; and Jeffrey Thomas. All Rights Reserved.

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