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A Curricular Approach to Wicked Problems

Authors: Edward Carr*, Clark University, Timothy J Downs, Clark University, Morgan L Ruelle, Clark University
Topics: Higher Education, Human-Environment Geography, Coupled Human and Natural Systems
Keywords: Wicked problems, curriculum, transdisciplinary, engaged, translational,
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual Track 8
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Clark University’s International Development, Community, and Environment Department (IDCE) is a problem-centered academic unit focused on engaged, transdisciplinary and translational research for the 21st Century. In their teaching, research, and professional practice faculty typically address wicked problems: problems difficult or impossible to either fully comprehend or resolve because of their inherent complexity and uncertainty, the ways in which they intersect with other problems, the ways in which they change and evolve over time, the different perspectives stakeholders have about them, and their defiance of a simple solution. Preparing for the impacts of climate change, reducing poverty and social injustice, and tackling forced migration are three inter-related examples. IDCE recognizes that wicked problems can neither be understood nor solved by individuals or lone academic fields. Instead, they are most productively approached through the organized efforts of diverse people and disciplines. This requires a different approach to pedagogy than the specialization typically seen in professional graduate programs. It requires learning how to speak both within and across the experiences of diverse stakeholders, to integrate different forms of knowledge, and to adapt to changing conditions. This paper reviews IDCE’s efforts to build an integrative, responsive curriculum that prepares professionals for careers tackling wicked problems, the challenges that have emerged in this process, the future directions for research, practice, and teaching, and the synergies among them.

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