New course tackles ‘wicked problems’ with strategic design methodology

Starting in January 2018, undergraduate students will have the chance to participate in the pilot of an experiential learning course focused on ‘wicked problems’.  The course design is a collaboration between CTLT’s Curriculum and Course Services team, the Office of Regional and International Community Engagement (ORICE), the Liu Institute and the Department of Theatre and Film.

“A wicked problem is a problem that has no defined solution – how you define the problem dictates how you’re going to solve to problem,” said Allyson Rayner, a curriculum consultant at CTLT. Rayner cites sustainability and energy access as examples of wicked problems that students may come across in this course. In order to tackle these complex issues, students will be introduced to strategic design methodology (SDM) and encouraged to use this throughout the course in their approaches to problem solving.

“Strategic design methodology has its roots with human centered design and so it differs from what would have been a traditional design methodology of find the problem, do the research, propose the solutions then implement,” explained Tamara Baldwin, director of ORICE. Through this methodology, Baldwin hopes to steer students away from top-down, linear approaches to problem solving and learn to engage multiple stakeholders in creative ways.

Rather than using textbook case studies, students will have the unique opportunity to engage real-time with a partner organization in India, who is seeking the students’ help in addressing different problems. Having previously worked with international service learning at UBC, Baldwin hopes that this course will be able to provide students with a similar experience and opportunities without the extensive travel. She also emphasizes the importance of ensuring that the benefits of this partnership are reciprocal between the students and the international ‘co-educators’ at the organization.

“The challenges that are coming forward from the organization are real and current and students are going to be interacting with a mentor from that organization remotely,” said Baldwin. “It’s not going to be this disembodied project that they’re part of, but that they’re really interacting with people from the organization and seeking to understand the issues.”

The course is backed by an interdisciplinary team that brings different perspectives and methodologies to the table. Tom Scholte, a professor in UBC Theatre and Film, hopes to bring the methodology of ‘forum theatre’ to the classroom in order to help students understand contexts and develop empathy. Moura Quayle, director of the Liu Institute and director pro-tem of the UBC School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, brings her interest and experience in strategic design methodology. The collaboration poses an experiential and exciting learning opportunity unlike anything else at UBC.