Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World
reviewed by Hayriye Kayi-Aydar - May 10, 2019
Title: Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World
Author(s): Paul Hanstedt
Publisher: Stylus Publishing, Sterling, VA
ISBN: 1620366975, Pages: 200, Year: 2018
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Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World by Paul Hanstedt is one of the best books I have read in the last decade. I am a mid-career teacher educator and scholar in an English department, and I wish I had read this book when I was a doctoral student. Nevertheless, this outstanding text has a lot to offer for all scholars trying to adapt to changing technologies and learner populations, providing innovative and practical strategies for course design.
The main argument of the book centers around the idea that we live in a changing, unpredictable world where the demands and expectations placed on graduates are constantly changing. According to Hanstedt, we need wicked graduates with wicked competencies (p. 4), which he argues are developed when students are provided with opportunities to apply and use information instead of just receiving it. In a highly accessible and reader-friendly way, Hanstedt explains how this is done. He highlights the importance of a goal-oriented approach to course design and explains how a course instructor can design authoritative and measurable goals that align with institutional goals. I found this section of the book extremely useful as the content is directly relevant to my current context. I currently teach at an R1 institution where all program curricula are expected to have measurable learning outcomes that are also reflected in syllabi. Hanstedt innovatively illustrates how to build such measurable, clear, and meaningful goals for learning outcomes.
Hanstedt engages in further discussion regarding the key assumptions about structuring wicked courses. Some of the key considerations are: (a) We cannot simply cover everything our students will need to know; (b) course content should not be a series of discrete facts but information in relationship to other information, which fosters meaning-making rather than memorization; and (c) pure content coverage will only get our students so farwe need to make space in the syllabus for learning.
A few other considerations are also discussed. Perhaps the biggest strength here is Hanstedts step-by-step demonstration of course design, which would be particularly helpful to teaching assistants who receive little to no mentorship or guidance as they develop courses. For seasoned faculty, Hanstedts step-by-step course design presentation is a very nice refresher.
From course design, Hanstedt moves on to creating wicked assignments. The book becomes even more interesting when he asks the following questions:
What if youre in a field where paper assignments arent necessarily the norm? Or what if the students at your institution arent particularly inspired by writing assignments, even nontraditional ones? What if youve seen enough papers to last you a lifetime, and youre just looking for something new? (p. 73)
Hanstedt explains how an instructor can use oral presentations, comprehensive projects, quantitative reasoning, blended assignments, poster projects, videos and digital media, research, and signature work. While I found the information on creating wicked assignments highly engaging and exciting, I was less enthusiastic about the section on creating authoritative exams, particularly because this section was mainly focused on multiple-choice exams, which I almost never use in my classrooms. That said, this is the shortest section and may be more applicable to those instructors who frequently use written or multiple-choice exams.
Next, Hanstedt offers a number of contextualized examples. For instance, he describes how one of his colleagues who is a geoscience professor teaches his students to analyze geological data sets. He then illustrates how one of his literature colleagues uses mini-essays to help students prepare to write their final essay. The final example Hanstedt gives is of an ungraded assignment that he developed in collaboration with his colleague who was teaching a physics course and was unhappy with the quality of her students lab reports.
In addition to these cases, Hanstedt provides additional examples, which include generating questions, epigraph and analysis, response theses, case studies, two-sided debates, mock trial, Monday morning riddles, real-world applications, generating images, concept maps, gallery works, think-aloud pair problem-solving, and more. Hanstedts creativity, brilliance, and critical thinking fully shine in this section. The book ends with a section on Assessing Wickedness where Hanstedt offers important insights and practical applications in the area of assessment.
The appendix consists of materials that instructors can easily use in their own syllabi or classes. The samples included are: Poster Project for English 322: Composition Theory and Practice; Travel Film Assignment for First-Year Seminar on Travel Literature; Research Poster Assignment for Occupational Theory; Final Exam Take-Home Question on What Matters; Mini-Group Essay Assignment for English 338: Victorian Literature; and Group Log for Mini-Group Essays.
In conclusion, Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World is a must-read for anyone teaching at the college level. The book provides incredibly useful information not only for current faculty but also for doctoral students who will soon assume faculty positions. Paul Hanstedt provides a compelling and thoughtful argument throughout the book that we, college instructors, need to reconsider the skills, goals, concepts, teaching methods, and assessment techniques in our classrooms so that our students, no matter what field they are in, are equipped with the skills, strategies, and knowledge necessary to face the daunting challenges of life after college.