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Helen Dobson,

Page history last edited by sceptrept 14 years, 8 months ago

A curriculum for coping with complexity

Bland Tomkinson, Helen Dobson, Rosemary Tomkinson, Charles Engel, University of Manchester


For professionals one of the key challenges is that of tackling wicked problems, which are necessarily complex.  The results of a Delphi study1 amongst engineering educators suggested that the approach in such cases needs to be inter-disciplinary and to use student-centred learning, such as problem-based learning (PBL).  These results echo a Royal Academy of Engineering sponsored pilot study2 conducted in the University of Manchester which focused on issues of sustainable development, in its broadest sense, with interdisciplinary groups of third-year engineering and science undergraduate students.  The pilot course unit has been adopted by the university and offered to a wider group of undergraduate students but the concept is capable of much wider applicability.  The vision of the authors3 is that universities should adopt the responsibility of preparing their graduates for inter-professional and inter-sectoral4 collaboration, in order to participate in the management of change as it relates to the world's major, interrelated problems


The Delphi study suggested that a systemic approach was necessary to deal with complex issues and also that conventional approaches to teaching were inappropriate.  Student-centred approaches were favoured, including case studies, role play and, especially, the coherent educational approach of PBL5.  Many of these ideas had already been incorporated into the pilot module developed within the RAEng sponsored study.  That study has been seeking to evaluate the approach, largely in terms of student learning.  Despite good evidence of student acceptance and development of deeper approaches to learning, the assessment regime was felt not to match student needs.  For the second, larger, cohort an individual reflective log was introduced in place of individual assessment through modified essay questions.  Assessment is seen as an integral, and important, part of learning and has to be related to the student encounter with this experiential approach.


This paper will look at the two studies, including evaluation results from the second year of operation,


Key words:  Complexity, PBL, Delphi, wicked problems, sustainable development, change

and seek to draw lessons for wider applicability to questions of preparation of students for professional careers.



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