I’m glad that I only teach one class a year.

When that one class is finished and the grades are turned in my mind is always churning with unanswered questions, suggestions for books and articles that have emerged from our reading and gaping holes in my knowledge that have been exposed by 15 weeks discussion and exploration. (This year is worse: I have all those unfulfilled goals plus a couple of weeks of blog-guilt–both reading and writing.) I’m not sure I could take this much intellectual turmoil on a regular basis.

This year’s class is no different. The students came from a wide range of technical backgrounds–five from K-12 teaching or administration and 2 from higher or continuing professional education backgrounds. They were uniformly hard-working, curious, enthusiastic and supportive of one another in our journey together.

Over the next few days, I’ll try to articulate some of my thoughts on the class in a number of different areas, but my first meta-reaction is that those of us who teach or “teach teachers” need to develop a whole new paradigm for understanding educational “planning.” (My course title was Educational Technology Planning.) Our K-12 teachers face incredible challenges in their attempts to balance the demands of incredibly diverse student bodies, misinformed or belligerent parents and a coarsening popular culture, all in the face of simplistic and unfunded government requirements.

I’m not sure that our current planning and vocabulary are adequate to dealing with that complexity.

Dave Pollard in a How to Save the World blog post back in October introduced me to the term wicked problem. Wicked problems don’t easily lend themselves to our conventional understandings of goals, objectives, decisions or solutions in that:

  1. Each attempt at creating a solution changes the understanding of the problem.
  2. Since you cannot define the problem, it is difficult to tell when it is resolved.
  3. There are no unambiguous criteria for deciding if the problem is resolved.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  5. Every implemented solution to a wicked problem has consequences, some of which are unforeseeable or adverse.
  6. Wicked problems do not have a well-described set of potential solutions (it’s a matter of individual judgement).
  7. Since every wicked problem is essentially unique, there are no ‘classes’ of solutions that can be applied.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered a symptom of another problem (there is no constant or ‘root’ problem underlying others in the set).
  9. The causes of a wicked problem can be perceived in numerous, changing ways.
  10. There is an unreasonable expectation that the team working on the problem will find a satisfactory solution, preferably the first time.

Technology can help respond to some of those challenges, but only if we adopt much more sophisticated models for understanding the teaching and learning process. What does it mean to plan in such environments? Are those of us in higher education preparing a generation of students who can deal with 21st Century problems as complex as peak oil, terrorism, health care for an aging population, environmental degradation, and yes, education? I’m not sure that we are.