Thinking about academic hospitality when teaching about wicked problems

I’ve recently become involved in a research project looking at Academic Hospitality in Interdisciplinary Education.

I think this is important for wicked problems, as most wicked problems require interdisciplinary approaches (Barnett 2007; Cantor et al. 2015; Tassone et al. 2018). We’re using the idea of academic hospitality (Phipps and Barnett, 2007) to think about how interdisciplinary teaching and learning might go forward in practice. The basic idea of academic hospitality is that a ‘host’ (say a programme leader) might have a range of ways of inviting ‘guests’ (say students and teachers from other disciplines) and making them feel welcome in their space. Thinking about everyday practices of hospitality in education can help us understand how to achieve transformative and inclusive interdisciplinary education (Zembylas, 2020).

Academic hospitality can involve (Imperiale et al., 2021; Phipps and Barnett, 2007; Zembylas, 2020):

Epistemological hospitality – the programme leader welcomes and is open to ideas from other disciplines offered by colleagues and students.

Linguistic hospitality – the teachers speak slowly and clearly and record their lectures to help students from diverse language backgrounds grasp the complex shifting language of interdisciplinary work. The classes have plenty of time for dialogue and clarifying understanding.

Material hospitality – the programme virtual learning environment is designed to be usable by participants who have poor internet connectivity or use screen readers.

Affective hospitality – sharing online ‘gifts’ such as meaningful photographs or specially written poetry between members of an online programme.

Of these, epistemological hospitality is the form most obviously relevant to interdisciplinary education. I would argue though, that the complexity and emotional challenges of interdisciplinary work on wicked problems mean that the other forms are also important.

All of this set me thinking about how we understand who are the hosts and who are the guests in a particular setting at a given time. Hospitality implies invitation into a setting across some kind of boundaries. These boundaries might be obvious doors to houses or more tacit, as with the boundaries of academic disciplines. These settings can be virtual (online meetings, virtual learning environments) although they are nonetheless embodied and enacted in specific places (when our colleagues’ children or their kitchens appear on screen) (Imperiale et al 2021).  Some of the settings might  be better understood through metaphors like ‘network’ rather than hosting in a singular home (Ross, 2019). The time may be a single meeting or a mix of synchronous and asynchronous engagement in different time zones over an extended period.

With all this being the case, it’s not at all straightforward to label some participants as guests and some as hosts (Ross, 2019). The teacher leading a class may take on the host role for a time but the student who turns on their camera in their kitchen is also hosting. Nor are hosting relationships straightforwardly warm and friendly, they inevitably involve tension and power (Ruitenberg, 2017). Wider social inequalities shape the experience of being a host or a guest (Zembylas, 2020). Think of the impact of the UK Border Agency on how we welcome some students. So how we experience hospitality when we are in a particular learning situation is socially constructed and fluid.

I think the notion of ‘figured worlds’ from Holland and her colleagues is useful here (Holland et al. 1998). A figured world is a ‘socially and culturally constructed realm of interpretation in which particular characters and actors are recognised, significance is assigned to certain acts, and particular outcomes are valued over others’ (Holland et al. 1998, 52). So, for example, in the figured world of an interdisciplinary course we would find ways of recognising different participants as hosting or guesting depending on the stories available to us in from the subject areas – and other cultures available to us – about what being a host or being a guest involves and about who gets to take those roles. The ways of doing, stories we tell, and power relations that make up the figured world are used by learners to ‘figure’ their own roles in that setting (Holland et al. 1998; Rubin 2007; Urietta 2007).  We might think about what we could do in constructing that figured world so that all our students feel like legitimate hosts and welcome guests.

Barnett, R. (2007). A will to learn: Being a student in an age of uncertainty. Maidenhead: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.

Cantor, A., V. DeLauer, D. Martin, and J. Rogan. (2015). Training interdisciplinary ‘wicked problem’ solvers: Applying lessons from HERO in community-based research experiences for undergraduates. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 39 (3), 407–419.

Holland, D., D. Skinner, W. Lachicotte Jr., and C. Cain. (1998). Identity and agency in cultural worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Imperiale, M., Phipps, A. and Fassetta, G. (2021). On online practices of hospitality in higher education. Studies in Philosophy and Education 40, 629-648.

Phipps, A. and Barnett, R. (2007). Academic hospitality. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 6(3), 237-254.

Ross, J. (2018). Casting a line: Digital co-production, hospitality and mobilities in cultural heritage settings. Curator: The Museum Journal 61(4), 575-592.

Rubin, B. (2007). Learner identity amid figured worlds: Constructing (in)competence at an urban high school. Urban Review 39 (2), 217–249.

Ruitenberg, C. (2017). Unlocking the world: Education in an ethic of hospitality. Routledge.

Tassone, V., C. O’Mahony, E. McKenna, H. Eppink, and A. Wals. (2018). (Re-)designing higher education curricula in times of systemic dysfunction: A responsible research and innovation perspective. Higher Education 76, 337–352.

Urietta Jr, L. (2007). Figured worlds and education: An introduction to the special issue. Urban Review 39 (2), 107–116.

Zembylas, M. (2020). From the ethic of hospitality to affective hospitality: Ethical, political and pedagogical implications of theorizing hospitality through the lens of affect theory. Studies in Philosophy and Education 39, 37-50.

Landscapes of practice and wicked problems

I’ve recently been reading a book called Learning in Landscapes of Practice by Etienne Wenger and colleagues. I think this book presents a useful shift in metaphor away from the notion of ‘communities of practice’ from Wenger’s earlier work. The idea of landscapes of practice is that we all of us in our professional lives move across diverse communities and multiple boundaries in our own particular trajectories. I find this idea works better for me when thinking about teaching wicked problems than the narrower communities of practice metaphor.

When we think about learning in relation to communities of practice, we tend to emphasise how the learner moves from peripheral to deeper participation in one community with its particular norms, values and practices. Life is more complex than this, especially when we are working on wicked problems. Thinking about moving across a landscape lets us think about multiple possible paths, different kinds of boundaries and experiences of getting lost! As Wenger and colleague put it (p.2):

“The metaphor of a landscape ensures that we pay attention to boundaries, to our multimembership in different communities and to the challenges we face as our personal trajectories take us through multiple communities”.

As well as introducing the idea of landscapes of practice, Wenger and colleagues introduce the distinction between ‘competence’ and ‘knowledgeability’. Competence is being able to understand and practice well within one community. Knowledgeability is the capacity to work well, collaborate and be understood across multiple communities. I think this distinction is important, as those working across multiple communities might feel deskilled or less able when they have less time to devote to the practices of a single community. Yet their knowledgeability is crucial to working well with wicked problems.

Practical Strategies for teaching about wicked problems

I had a great time recently running a workshop for University colleagues about teaching about wicked problems. We had some excellent discussions 🙂 I’ve posted the recordings of my parts of the workshop and the slides below in case anyone wants a look.

Practical Strategies Part 1

Practical Strategies Part 2

Practical Strategies Part 3

How to embed wicked problems through whole university curricula

I’ve just been rewatching this excellent keynote by Professor Amy Tsui at the University of Edinburgh Learning and Teaching Conference. I think Amy does a fantastic job of explaining what it really takes to transform university curricula to prepare students for wicked problems. She sets out the whole process including the consultations, discussions, development of shared language and shared perspectives on curricula, policy, implementation, resourcing and evalution. Very inspiring!

Keynote talks | The University of Edinburgh

deep listening

I’ve been reading about the use of contemplative practices in higher education recently. Getting students to engage with wicked problems is bound to prompt strong emotions and disagreements. These are important parts of transformative learning but we need to support our students to work well with these emotional reactions. I think contemplative practices can really help with this.

I’m currently reading a book chapter by Barbezat and Bush (2013) about deep listening. They give lots of examples from higher education of students benefiting from this contemplative practice. It both helps students learn better and also prepares them well for many future roles.

The basic idea is that students practice deep listening by taking turns listening to one another for a few minutes. The idea is just to listen and try to resist the temptation to help, coach, judge or react to what the other person is saying. Once the speaker is finished, the listener can repeat back what they heard as closely as possible. Students report how much they value being truly heard in this way and how much they learn from the practice.

Barbezat, D. and Bush, M. (2013). Contemplative Practices in Higher Education : Powerful Methods to Transform Teaching and Learning, John
Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. Chapter 7.

Thinking again about curricula for wicked problems

Reading the news is so hard just now. Political crises, the climate and biodiversity emergencies and the covid-19 pandemic make me want to hide under the duvet and give up! Watching the recent David Attenborough documentary on extinction was deeply upsetting as well. We can’t give up though. Especially folk like me who are so privileged and safe compared to many others in our world. So I’ve been thinking again about curricula for wicked problems and how we in universities can support and challenge our graduates to work with us on these global challenges. Here’s the new video I’ve made based on that thinking.

Here are the key sources for the video, other than the findings from the wicked problems project.

Anderson, C. and McCune, V. (2013). Fostering meaning: fostering community. Higher Education, 66, 283-296.

Anderson, C. and McCune, V. (2013). Facing an uncertain future: curricula of dualities. Curriculum Journal, 24(1), 153-168.

Ashwin, P., Boud, D., Calkins, S., Coate, K., Hallett, F., Light, G., Luckett, K., McArthur, J., MacLaren, I., Mclean, M., McCune, V., Mårtensson, K. and Tooher, M. (2020). Reflective Teaching in Higher Education 2nd Edn. Bloomsbury.

Barnett, R. & Coate, K. (2005). Engaging the Curriculum in Higher Education. Maidenhead: Open University Press 

Beer, L., Rodriguez, K., Taylor, C., Martinez-Jones, N., Griffin, J., Smith, T., Lamar, M. and Anaya, R. (2015). Awareness, integration and interconnectedness: Contemplative practices of Higher Education Professionals. Journal of Transformative Education, 13(2), 161-185.

The Enhancing Teaching-Learning Environments in Undergraduate Courses Project

Harraway, D. (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Duke University Press.

Lotz-Sisitka, H., A. Wals, D. Kronlid  and D. McGarry. (2015). Transformative, transgressive social learning: Rethinking higher education pedagogy in times of systemic global dysfunction. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 16: 73–80.

McCune, V. and Hounsell, D. (2005). The development of students’ ways of thinking and practising in three final-year biology courses. Higher Education, 49(3), 255-289.

Near Future Teaching

Ross, J. and Collier, A. (2016). Complexity, mess and not-yetness: teaching online with emerging technologies. In G. Veletsianos (ed), Emergence and Innovation in Digital Learning: Foundations and Applications. Athabasca University Press.

Tassone, V., O’Mahony, C., McKenna, E., Eppink, H. and Wals, A. (2018).(Re-)designing higher education curricula in times of systemic dysfunction: a responsible research and innovation perspective. Higher Education, 76, 337-352.

Wamsler, C. (2020). Education for sustainability: Fostering a more conscious society and transformation towards sustainability. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 21(1), 112-130. DOI 10.1108/IJSHE-04-2019-0152

Zajonc, A. (2013). Contemplative pedagogy: a quiet revolution in higher education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning No. 134, Summer 2013, 83-94. DOI: 10.1002/tl.20057

curricula for wicked problems

Here is a short video I’ve made about higher education curricula for wicked problems based on what we have learned from this project and the wider literature.

Here are the slides for the video.

These are some of the key sources of inspiration for the video beyond the wicked problems project:

Near Future Teaching

Staying with the Trouble

Anderson, C. and McCune, V. (2013). Facing an uncertain future: curricula of dualities. Curriculum Journal, 24(1), 153-168.

Barnett, R., & Coate, K. (2005). Engaging the curriculum in higher education. Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.

The ETL Project