GV to tackle ‘Wicked Problems’ with new liberal arts course

Ellie Phillips

Starting next year, Grand Valley State University will offer a new sustainability-related course called Wicked Problems.

“This class focuses on ‘learning by doing,’ action-based research preparing students to collaboratively tackle wicked problems in their communities,” said Danielle Lake, an affiliate professor in the Liberal Studies Department. “Too often classes today require a lot of reading and talking, but little on-the-ground follow through. It was designed to be part of one of the new upper division general education Issues courses and thus emphasizes creativity, problem solving, collaboration and integration.”

Professor Sarah King designed the course with help from Lake and professor Anne Marie Fauvel, and it will be counted as a general education credit as part of the liberal studies program of the Brooks College for Interdisciplinary Studies.

“It’s not a required course for any program, but we envision that it will compliment programs in most majors, as a part of what students will be doing in it is to look at the approaches to sustainability from their own field of study,” King said.

Sections of the class are being offered in the winter and fall semesters of the upcoming academic year. Fauvel, King and Lake will be teaching their individual sections of the class, but collaborating in various ways throughout the year. The students enrolled in the course will be working with each other, their professor and community partners to address specific and ongoing sustainability challenges both on campus and in the community.

“We are currently developing opportunities for students to publish their work through GVSU’s scholarworks site as well as opportunities for students to present their findings to the GVSU community and surrounding partners at the end of each semester,” Lake said.

The course got its name from a 1973 article on city planning, written by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber. The phrase has become a widely used term in literature on the environment. “Wicked problems” are dynamically complex and ill-structured, and they have no ideal solutions. Often these problems are interwoven with other problems. Sustainability (or the state of not being sustainable) is considered a wicked problem.
For more information, check out the 60-second video posted about the course on Youtube by typing “LIB 322” into the search bar.
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