Wicked Problem: Re-imagining Online Learning

A wicked problem is something that cannot necessarily be fixed. So many factors run into this problem that it’s difficult to even comprehend what the real problem is. Often times, once you feel you understand the problem, you come to realize how many aspects you haven’t considered.

Re-imagining online learning is one of these problems. There are so many stakeholders to consider, that once you create a solution another problem evolves. A group of educators and I tackled this problem. Re-imagining online learning. We diverged into how to dissolve this problem, and began by thinking on such a grand scale that unless we were congressional representatives we would arrive at no solution.

After gathering feedback from our Professional Learning Networks; another group of MAET members, various technology integrations specialists, curriculum coordinators, and teachers- we narrowed down our focus to address a K-12 school system.

Below you can view an Edcanvas that takes into broad consideration; the wicked problem, a solution, and the various stakeholders who will play the most important roles in implementing a balance between classroom instruction, online consumption, and online production of content- creating the most affective form of learning for students.

Click on the image to access the interactive product.

Wicked Problem: Re-imagining Online Learning

Upon receiving feedback about our group work based on solving the “Re-imagining of Online Learning” there were a few common themes that came as a result.

“What is the actual wicked problem,” was a comment that was repeated. Arriving at that place was a difficult process for our group to come to and really it is exactly what makes a wicked problem true to its name. We began approaching this problem at such a grand scale, that (as stated above) we would have to be lawyers or government policy makers in order to really solve this problem of what student online learning wold look like.  It took our group quite a bit of conversing, rethinking of ideas, getting feedback from other groups, and at times butting heads in order to arrive at approaching the problem from a k-12 standpoint and involving the stakeholders with whom we had the most contact and whose viewpoints we could comprehend.

Once we were in agreement on the focal point, a few group ideas sounded like; “Online learning means we are replacing the teacher with online educational experiences. We can create virtual classrooms.” Again, these seemed lofty suggestions, as it was an extreme shift in how implementation would go considering the stakeholders, and it was a concept of which we had little concrete knowledge. So, again we shifted to making the problem more tangible for what could actually work in a school system today, in any school setting. This meant again, focusing on that k-12 building, but staying broad enough to have an idea that could work for; a public school, a private school just getting on its feet, an international school just beginning a 1:1 program, the list could go on.

After some discourse, it then came time to think about what this would look like in a school setting. We valued the human contact students have in classrooms, and wanted to use online learning experiences as a tool to complement classroom instruction. So, we discussed extended learning opportunities through the use of video, podcasting, and web quests that students would pursue online. We all agreed on this piece, and thought this was the way to go. After dividing the primary stakeholders as principals, curriculum coaches, tech integration specialists, teachers, parents, and students, we discussed and listed the major constraints for each group. Then, it was time to divide and conquer. The group split up for the evening to individually tackle the problem. We finally felt a bit more streamlined at this point, when I decided to use my PLN for a few suggestions.

I called upon a technology integration specialist and a curriculum coach for their perspectives. After sharing our idea with them, I had the unfortunate realization that we weren’t re-imagining anything. That really, students would just be consuming more content online and not being an active participant in the experience. If the online experience was performed by students or not, there would be no change in their learning. So, this really wasn’t solving a problem, as many classrooms and school systems have similar procedures already in place. What would re-imagining look like? Of course neither of my colleagues could really answer that in a single sentence. However we did concur that the online experience should be more personalized and students should be creating and collaborating online, along with consuming knowledge. And in order for these experiences to happen, the curriculum coach, tech integration specialists, and teachers would need to collaborate on purposefully building these experiences into units of study for students.

This new point of view meant needing to call an impromptu late night meeting with the group, as the solution would mean reworking what the struggles and solutions of the stakeholders would be. I was concerned with what this meeting might develop, as it took us a considerable about of time to arrive at our current standpoint. I was also fearful of needing to abandon the new idea, in order to complete the assignment on time. With a bit of convincing however, the group did share the new perspective and once again, we moved forward.

Using Edcanvas as a location to host our solution was an easy agreement. However determining what the format may look like in presenting the actual argument was up for discussion. It was eventually agreed upon that each stakeholder would be represented as an avatar or animated figure, who would speak in the first person and share their role in implementing the solution. I wasn’t too sure about the idea at first, as looking at this from a policy level, an avatar may not be the most professional way to pitch the idea. However, I was enthused that some quieter group members had spoken up and taken initiative to explain that using the avatar would give a different face to each stakeholder- which is something we needed as a few of us would be representing multiple ‘characters.’

In summation, this is how we arrived to our final product. There were two other important pieces of feedback that did stand out and were meaningful to me. 1- The need for concrete examples of tools and technology that would be used for making this online learning experience happen. And 2- The use of research and support for backing up why we are approaching the problem in this manner. They are both avenues that are important to the problem, and worthy of more exploration. However, as it did take our group an extended amount of time to arrive at our solution, we simply did not have enough time to look into more specific details regarding these areas. Time will always be a factor, but the beauty of a wicked problem is that it is every changing over time- which will allow for reflection and redirecting as well. Therefore, the problem is not closed with our solution, and providing specific tools and research are still areas of opportunity that can be explored.

Overall, I see the wicked problem living up to the meaning of its name. However, the process of dissecting it was definitely a worth while learning experience.

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