Tackling World Challenges, the (virtual) classroom becomes a full-fledged workbook
Institutional Communication Service
During the spring term of 2018, and within its World Challenges Programme, USI launched a new course designed to foster critical thinking and to understand and solve global issues, the so-called “wicked problems”. Since then, the course Tackling World Challenges has made great strides and the experiences collected so far have led to the publication, by Routledge, of the comprehensive workbook “The Sustainability Grand Challenge. A Wicked Learning Workbook”, which is edited, among others, by Michael Gibbert, Full professor of Marketing at USI and co-authored by Monika Maślikowska, PhD student at the Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society at USI.
“Wicked problems”, by definition, are complex issues of global magnitude with no clear solution, such as migration, climate change, social inclusion, gender equality, and food waste. How can we tackle the world’s biggest problems? “Wicked problems require, ultimately, a ‘wicked learning’ approach”, says Professor Michael Gibbert. “With this workbook, we developed an indirect approach to problem solving where students learn to ‘tackle’ a problem, for instance, by addressing an issue indirectly from a broader perspective of, say, the natural resources or animal rights, and by learning about it through engagement while involving different stakeholders including expert organisations, corporations, young people or teachers”.
The book is a manual for a new teaching model, which together with the afore-mentioned pedagogical perspective, includes also a substantial perspective, i.e. the topic of sustainability as the main common denominator underlying Wicked Problems. “Students, upon graduating, will be confronted with demands of living more sustainably in all spheres of their professional as well as private lives”, explains Prof. Gibbert. “Sustainability – with wicked or innovative approaches – will mark the next decade or so, the period where current Master’s students make their careers and raise their families. Their strategic decisions need to include innovative sustainability as a core criterion. So, the students – and their teachers – had better be ready”.
Furthermore, as suggested by Monika Maślikowska who has been responsible for the course administration over the past three years: “As the working conditions operating in the context of sustainability are evolving into dynamic forms of global virtual team collaboration across boundaries, academia needs to adapt to the complexities of associated wicked problems, multidisciplinarity and increased diversity. This inclusive approach to education engages not only academics, but also business practitioners and students in the knowledge creation, allowing students to become the integrated catalysts that learn to operate in the context of uncertainty also outside of academia.”
‘Tackling World Challenges’ is an inter-university elective course open to 3rd-year undergraduate (Bachelor’s) students from USI (Lugano campus), Stockholm School of Economics (Sweden), and Hanken School of Economics (Finland), who participate mainly in a common ‘virtual classroom’ – a system introduced well before the current outbreak that forced schools all over the globe to switch to digital mode. Earlier this year, right before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, a cohort of 35 students from these three universities took part in a field project, which is the ‘main dish’ of the course and the contents of which were edited in the wake of the pandemic.