I have found that the first chapter of Joshua Eyler’s book How Humans Learn connects nicely with what we’re trying to do with Tackling a Wicked Problem. The chapter is about the role of curiosity in learning. He writes: “In order to learn something, we must first wonder about it.” (p. 18). He goes on to say that we should use inquiry as a design principle for our classes. This means asking questions that will lead to deep understanding. I was especially drawn to his use of class discussions to model the kind of questioning we want students to engage in. He says the best discussions come from asking open-ended questions that aren’t too open-ended. “Why” questions are particularly suited to good discussion, he writes. He quotes Dewey when he tells us that we must do what we can to avoid “the impression that everything important is already settled and nothing remains to be found out.” (p. 49)
The Question Formulation Technique that he discusses reminds me of Design Thinking, which many of us used in First Year Seminar to guide students in their project design and development. The Question Formulation Technique asks students to choose a focus for the question and then “proceed through stages of refining, revising, reflecting on, and prioritizing the questions. This technique … is effective because it combines authentic practice (students formulate their own questions and choose the most viable from among those that are generated) with the metacognitive reflection that allows them to improve.” (p. 49-50) The metacognition part of this statement ties this Question Formulation Technique to the Habits of Mind (in particular, Self-Regulated Learning) that represent the learning outcomes for the Gen Ed program.
I am going to focus my section of the Tackling the Wicked Problem course around the question “What do we know about climate change and how do we know it?” Although it isn’t a “Why” question, I think it’s open-ended but not too open-ended. I will start with students exploring what they personally know about climate change and how they know that information. We can then explore what they don’t know about climate change, how they can find it, and how the sources they find “know” the information. Of course, this allows us to practice information literacy skills. I’m going to engage them in a project of contributing to the Digital Polarization Initiative, a student-created Snopes-like web site that presents research about claims on the Internet. Of course, my students will investigate climate change claims. My goal is to get students to wonder authentically about the various claims they encounter and then contribute their research to this national initiative as a way to share their work with an external audience.
I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.