Complex Problems is a 100-level
special-topics course capped at 19 students designed specifically for
first-year students and incoming transfer students. As an introduction to the
academy, the primary goal of the course is to acquaint students with the process
of university-level inquiry through the analysis of one or more complex
problems. Over the course of the semester, Complex Problems courses should demonstrate
the value of approaching problems or enduring questions from diverse (but often
complementary) perspectives. Courses should incorporate multiple points of
view, voices and ways of thinking from across personal and political spectrums.
This course is an opportunity
for faculty to model how they approach complex subjects. The expertise faculty
bring to this course is two-fold: their command of a subject matter and, just
as importantly, their ability to demonstrate how they set about understanding a
new problem or an enduring question. In short, these courses focus on how
knowledge is made, utilizing diverse perspectives and voices. Additionally,
faculty should create opportunities for frequent class discussion and active
learning, as well as opportunities to meet with individual students and groups
throughout the semester.
Complex Problems is also part
of a living-learning community, which means students will live on the same
floor of the residence hall as their classmates. Students will choose their
section of Complex Problems by ranking their top choices, and then be placed in
sections by the Complex Problems Faculty Director and staff and in consultation
with advisors. Faculty should include at least three living-learning activities
into the semester, which will be voluntary for students. Staff will assist
faculty and help them develop living-learning opportunities, such as offering
programming in the residence halls and in the DC community or creating
cross-programming and learning opportunities with other sections of Complex
Problems. Faculty who will require students to conduct work off-campus will
want to offer their course as a block class.
A Complex Problems course may
be offered for up to three years, after which it may either sunset or be
re-proposed. Course proposals will be reviewed by a small committee of faculty
with representation from each undergraduate school.
What Complex Problems isn’t.
This is not an introduction
to an academic discipline, nor is this solely a content-oriented course. On the
contrary, this course is meant to de-silo instruction by not focusing
exclusively on one’s discipline. This is also not a research methods course or
the kind of course in which 20-page papers or high-stakes tests are
appropriate. In fact, we encourage faculty to work closely with assigned
readings, placing more emphasis on analysis and synthesis than conducting
research. This course should challenge students; however, the instruction
should be appropriate for students who are new to the academy.
What Makes a Good Complex Problems
Faculty who would like to teach a section of Complex Problems are
encouraged to propose courses that illustrate for students the ways in which a
specific subject can be “unpacked”: Courses that highlight how multiple points
of view, voices, ways of thinking, or disciplines can be applied to a subject
will be most successful. Strong courses will also create many opportunities for
students to complete assignments, receive feedback, and revise their work. This
fall the following courses are being offered. You can access a brief
description of them here: Fall
2016 Complex Problems Courses.
Student Learning Outcomes
While each course will be unique, they must all center around these same learning goals.
a. Identify and engage with complexity, or gray areas, within issues or contexts, demonstrating an understanding of the stakes, risks, and advantages of different positions.
b. Identify broad contexts surrounding a complex problem.
c. Demonstrate self-awareness of one’s own cultural biases (e.g., perspectives, beliefs, and opinions).
d. Demonstrate an appreciation of multiple perspectives and approaches beyond one’s own, which may include, for example, political diversity, cultural diversity, or methods of knowledge production.
e. Demonstrate civility through argumentation or intellectual exchange.
a. Complete assignments (written, oral, visual, etc.) that demonstrate audience awareness, including context and purpose.
b. Formulate a thesis or project plan specific to the intended purpose and of a manageable scope.
c. Use sources and evidence appropriate for the student’s subject and purpose to support a compelling essay or assignment.
d. Demonstrate facility with skills appropriate for the assignment (e.g., Writing: logical, clear, grammatically and mechanically correct; Oral Presentation: organization, tone, poise, language; Visual Presentation: image quality, production quality, concision).
a. Articulate the concept that “texts” can include written, visual, spatial, or creative works, etc.
b. Accurately summarize, analyze and synthesize a given text or texts, making connections among different texts and with one’s prior knowledge.
c. Assess the context and quality of the text, which might include the following: author’s purpose or approach, design, what has been left unsaid, quality of supporting evidence, etc.
a. Incorporates feedback from faculty, peers and others by appropriately integrating that feedback into assignments and activities.
b. Offers constructive, appropriate feedback to classmates.
Frequently Asked Questions
Open the attached PDF for information such as "What are the faculty expectations for teaching in the Complex Problems pilot?", "What role, if any, does interdisciplinarity play in this course?", and "Who can I contact if I have more questions?"