SUPER: Student-active learning through “wicked problems”

To enable students to tackle the complex challenges of tomorrow, we will need to change the educational methods of how students learn. The project SUPER will look at how student-active learning can make students better equipped to tackle “wicked problems”.

By Tina Larsen

In today’s society, we often face complex challenges that are difficult and almost impossible to solve. These are often referred to as “wicked problems” – a problem that does not have a clear solution. Students in higher education are often drilled in what we can refer to as “tame problems” – a problem that can be solved by choosing and applying the correct algorithm. However, this does not enable students to cope with the complex challenges we face today. To enable students to work with “wicked problems”, we will need to change the educational methods in our education system. Engage has therefore co-initiated a project called SUPER which has been granted support by DIKU. Through interdisciplinary innovation projects that aim to work with “wicked” problems, the SUPER-project will try to understand best practice, as well as develop, test and evaluate student-active learning.

About the project

In order to tackle “wicked problems”, students must build a holistic understanding of the problem and experience interdisciplinary collaboration early in the course of study. An important challenge for all education for the future will be to change students’ attitudes from finding the right answer to facing wicked problems. The fact that problems are ambiguous, even “wicked”, and thus have neither an unambiguous formulation nor a solution, does not mean that you should not formulate or try to solve them. The main goal with the SUPER-project is therefore to contribute to student-active learning. This will be achieved through:

  1. Interdisciplinary innovation projects with “wicked problems”
  2. In collaboration with external partners
  3. In adapted physical learning areas
  4. With extensive use of formative evaluation

There are several challenges in facilitating such projects. First, a culture of sharing across faculties is needed to foster the required interdisciplinarity. Furthermore, the collaboration with external partners must be perceived as useful and relevant for all parties, and more knowledge is needed on how to formulate issues and facilitate good learning processes together with external partners.

“The challenge is that the external partner has a need and desire for what the students should look at, which is often close to reality. The educator may, however, have a different need, where he / she wants the project to fit the literature on the syllabus list and the learning objectives for the subject. In addition, the students themselves have an idea of what motivates / gives ownership and what does not. In this project, we will look at how to proceed in practice to balance these three needs, so that it provides value to all parties”

Dag Håkon Haneberg, Project manager

Students also need good physical framework conditions and a learning environment to realize the projects, which requires coordination of resources, competence and facilities. Furthermore, projects with wicked problems from various external partners, may present additional challenges for the educators in providing formative as well as objective summative assessments of students’ projects.

The start-phase and the way forward

In the first phase of the project, the project team will map out and try to understand the current situation at both NTNU and Nord University. They will look at what type of educational practice exists and how different educators consider and practice involvement of external partners, interdisciplinary, assessment systems, etc. Haneberg believes this review will give the project important input. When they come across someone who has found a smart solution, they will help spread it or develop it into something that can benefit more people. The ambition of the project is to contribute to the renewal of student-active learning and to create some easy-to-understand guidelines that can be used by educators.

“We want to create some experience-based ideas and advice. We want to say: These are things to think about; this is how it has been done and this is how it worked”

Dag Håkon Haneberg, Project manager

SUPER

SUPER is organized into five work packages (WPs). These are:

  • (WP1) creating an interdisciplinary culture for sharing (WP2) real-life cases and projects from external partners
  • (WP2) realistic cases and projects from external partners
  • (WP3) resources for physical realization through workshops, labs and learning areas.
  • (WP4) formative and summative assessment of interdisciplinary innovation projects
  • (WP5) competence building, competence dissemination and coordination between WPs

Each WP has the phases (1) Understand, (2) Develop, (3) Try out, (4) Evaluate and (5) Communicate.