the educational technology journal

Vol 24|No 5|May 2015
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Students in Resonance: Provoking Fresh Thought and Deep Reasoning with Dissonance, Contrast and Juxtaposition

By Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved.
About author

This article first appeared in October of 1999 but has been revised and updated for this issue.

How can we be sure our students are doing fresh thinking?

How can we create learning experiences that require deep reasoning and originality?

The answer lies in understanding the interplay between dissonance2, juxtaposition1 and resonance3. 



-- there is no wisdom without it.
Resonance is a natural phenomenon, the shadow of import alongside the body of fact, and it cannot flourish except in deep time.

napsnack girls

We can employ juxtaposition1 as a strategy to provoke dissonance2.

The two photographs above show two very different coffee experiences. They stand side by side in juxtaposition. Their placement is jarring . . . unsettling. One is immediately tempted to compare and contrast them.

Click here or on the photographs to enlarge them and read how one person might compare and contrast then.

Notice how sharply contrasting images can create dissonance.

We expect that the need to resolve this dissonance will lead to resonance3 and, ultimately, to insight.

As teachers we help our students to identify the choices, quandaries and dilemmas embedded in life. They wrestle with the important (essential) questions. They manage irony, paradox and ambiguity.



We give students skills to create meaning where many would find nothing but fog.

When we set two or more ideas, paintings, poems, leaders or cities side by side, we provoke thought and comparison.

idea vs. idea
beach vs. mountain
painting vs. painting
road vs. track
poem vs. poem
leader vs. leader
digital vs. analog
city vs. city
writer vs. writer
freedom vs. license
browser vs. browser
cola vs. cola
cafe vs. cafe
trend vs. fad
bar vs. bistro
investment vs. scheme
proposal vs. proposal
suitor vs. suitor
Internet stock vs. Fortune 500

When we place them thus in juxtaposition4, we set in motion thoughts of difference - cognitive dissonance. The sharper the contrast, the greater the dissonance. We can feel the vibration, the conflict, the discomfort.

We are thrown off balance. Our minds are intrigued . . . our curiosities awakened. We want to resolve the dissonance . . . bring things back into harmony5 or resonance.

Too much school research and thought has suffered from a singular focus. Topical research (Go find out about California!) lacks the energy and excitement of comparison and choice.

Which city should we move to?
Which job shall we take?
Which neighborhood will make us happy?
Which roommate will endure beyond the first month?

Dissonance and Juxtaposition in Art

The vast digital resources available on the Internet provide countless opportunities to inspire original thought. Examples of dissonance and juxtaposition can be found within images. And images may also be placed side by side to set up the juxtaposition.

Within Images

How do dissonance and juxtaposition add to the meaning and impact of this image?



Comparing Images

Which of these Goyas available at the The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco better shows courage?

Francisco José de Goya y
Los Desastres de la Guerra,

Las Mugeres Dan Valor (The Women Give Courage)


Click above to find the image at The Fine Arts Museums

Francisco José de Goya y
Los Desastres de la Guerra,

Que Valor! (What Courage!)


Click above to find the image at The Fine Arts Museums

Thumbnail images used with permission of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.


How is your understanding of Van Gogh enhanced by seeing so many of his self portraits displayed all together? How does juxtaposition enrich our thinking? You can recreate this collection by doing a Google Image search.vincent

Choices provoke dissonance

If you could pick one of these cities in China to live and work in for two years, which would be your first choice?

  • Beijing
  • Shanghai
  • Hong Kong
  • Guangzhou
  • Shenzhen
  • Chengdu

    Examples of Choices
  1. Was Robert Browning a better poet than his wife Elizabeth?
  2. Which of these breakfast cereals would be the least healthy?
  3. Which ship captain would you pick to join on an expedition?
    • James Cook
    • Matthew Flinders
    • William Bligh

Make a list of ten choices that relate to history and then ten choices that relate to the following social issues:

acid rain

global warming

urban decay

violent crime

drunken driving


traffic congestion

water pollution

declining fish harvests

endangered species


government corruption

health care costs


teen pregnancy

racial conflict


illegal immigration



voter apathy











































The act of placing two or more ideas, paintings, objects, choices or options side by side so as to encourage comparison.

FNO Press® Dictionary of Trendy Terms©





(dîs´e-nens) noun
1. A harsh, disagreeable combination of sounds; discord.
2. Lack of agreement, consistency, or harmony; conflict.
3. Music. A combination of tones conventionally considered to suggest unrelieved tension and require resolution.
The American Heritage® Dictionary





(rèz´e-nens) noun
1. The quality or condition of being resonant:
2. Physics. The increase in amplitude of oscillation of an electric or mechanical system exposed to a periodic force whose frequency is equal or very close to the natural undamped frequency of the system.
3. Acoustics. Intensification and prolongation of sound, especially of a musical tone, produced by sympathetic vibration.
The American Heritage® Dictionary



1. Agreement in feeling or opinion; accord: live in harmony.
2. A pleasing combination of elements in a whole: color harmony; the order and harmony of the universe. See synonyms at proportion.

The American Heritage® Dictionary



1. Understanding

2. The ability to look past mere information to ask "So what?"

FNO Press® Dictionary of Trendy Terms©


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