Creating Wicked Students 3

Time to reflect on the previous semester’s successes and failures:

I might be on to something with the Wicked Problems that I created for my comparative politics course. Previous posts on the subject are here and here. A brief synopsis of the activity: in class, teams of students have to quickly determine and present a possible solution to an unstructured, authentic problem. I put four of these exercises into the course:

  • Political risk consultants recommend to Volkswagen executives which of two sub-Saharan African states is most suitable for establishing a new automobile manufacturing site and sales network.
  • Defense Intelligence Agency analysts identify which of three Latin American U.S. allies is most susceptible to a Russian GRU election disinformation campaign.
  • The United States Institute for Peace delivers a conference speech on constitutional design for leaders of Libya’s major political parties that compares constitutionally-established institutions of government across four states.
  • Members of Iran’s Mujahedin-e-Khalq create a strategy for overthrowing the Islamic Republic by examining revolutionary movements in four other states.

Students found the exercises engaging. My exams included a question that asked students to reflect on what they learned about their problem-solving ability from each Wicked Problem, and their answers indicated a reasonable degree of meta-cognition.

But it was obvious that students failed to use the methods of comparison that I repeatedly demonstrated during class discussions. I expected students to organize their cases and variables into a simple table, like I had, but they didn’t. So, for example, instead of something like this:

BotswanaNigeria
Ethnically heterogeneousNoYes
Prior civil warNoYes
Major oil exporterNoYes
High level of political riskNoYes

students presented the equivalent of this:

Nigeria has a large population and represents a larger automobile market than Rwanda, so Volkswagen should site its new operation in Nigeria.

I suppose the solution is to require that students create their presentations by filling in a blank table, which will force them to select cases and variables in a logical manner.

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