Around this time last year, the call went out for folks who might be interested in teaching Tackling a Wicked Problem. I remembered my own days at Plymouth, when a similar class was called something different, but the idea was similar: that through an area of close study, students might be able to be introduced to the college and academic community, and be supported in doing so. It also synced up with my ongoing interest in engaging local communities to solve local problems. Win-win.
A few interesting things happened as the course began. The first is that it was going to be an online-hybrid model, with a meeting once a week and online asynchronous learning. This was a modality that I had not engaged in before, and coming out of the disparate experiences of online learning through the pandemic, students had a lot of feelings about learning in a digital space. The second was a conversation while the course was in the planning stages related to the idea of being a “guide on the side” rather than the ”sage on the stage”, which shaped the class moving forward. If the goal for the course was to engage students with their communities, and we were meeting in a virtual space, it would be necessary to bring the community to that virtual space.
What followed was only possible by the openness of the community. Guest speakers from across the University and the greater Plymouth area volunteered their time to come and speak to the class. This included folks from PSU’s CoLab to discuss integrating into the campus community and choosing an academic program, the Rumney Climber’s Association to talk about how small groups of people can rally to change the world, and the Prouty who raises millions of dollars every year to benefit research related to cancer.
There were trials; online learning can be a challenge in the opening semester of a college career. Bringing in guest speakers sometimes led to last-minute cancellations. The initial goal for students to interact with outside agencies as part of their final project was complicated by ensuring that each student completed the necessary training to do so, and when they didn’t, offering up new opportunities.
In the end, each student group planned an activity for the community that would support them. Perhaps most memorable was a Fall 2021 guerrilla campaign where students in the group put positive messaging sticky notes all over campus. The images and feedback from the project and the reflections from the students were particularly powerful: thinking about their community and the ability they had to impact it in positive ways was a manifestation of what had been hoped for in the planning stages in the class.
I appreciate the opportunity to be part of the learning communities at Plymouth, to consider best practice, and be afforded the great privilege to work with our students during their time here. Being able to see them grow and develop and bring new ideas to the table to tackle wicked problems that we face every day is truly an honor.