I recently had an experience while overseeing student presentations in a course I am teaching. While the concrete situation could be handled without much ado due to some special circumstances, I thought the general problem interesting enough to ask for opinions here.
The case is the following: In a course for first year students, all participants are tasked with presentations of a course relevant topic. As part of the preparations, students are encouraged to make the presentations as lively as possible. One student had included a couple of biographical slides (encouraged), but one of the cartoon figures of a key person was drawn in the unmistakable style of "Der Ewige Jude" from national socialistic propaganda. From context, it was clearly unintended. The student had just googled for images, and this came up. The presentation as such had absolutely nothing to with history, and this was just a biographical introduction slide.
Obviously there is a learning opportunity here, but how should I handle such a problem? In particular since the course as such has nothing to do with European history. Some potential issues I already considered:
- Having such a figure on a slide could be quite offensive to other students, and as such, the mistake should be addressed.
- But by addressing the issue, I risk derailing the discussion about the course topic in question completely.
- By addressing the issue in plenary, I risk discouraging the student from making lively presentations in the future.
- By addressing the issue in private, I risk giving the impression that I don't care about such issues.
Let me stress that I am talking only about unintended use. Had the student started regurgitating anti-Semitic propaganda, I would have engaged immediately.
How can I turn such a situation into a positive learning opportunity, without discouraging the student, and without drawing too much attention from the main topic?