The Digication Blog

Classrooms are usually a convergence of different types of students with various backgrounds, strengths, and mindsets. While some are more confident to raise their hands to answer questions, others are not so bold. Those who belong to the latter category are the ones Paul Hanstedt describes as those who sit in the corner. Often these students feel like they don’t belong in the classroom. Maybe they feel out of place or don’t know all the nuances and higher education jargon.

Thanks to the dedication of educators using ePortfolio pedagogy within general education contexts, students have found the opportunity and tools to express themselves and show what they are capable of to their teachers and peers.

In this episode of Digication’s Scholars Conversation, Paul, Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Washington and Lee University, talks about how he looks out for the seemingly timid in the classroom and tries to get them out of their shell.

As the author of the well-known book, Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World, Paul needs no further introduction as an advocate of an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approach to teaching and development.

Having also felt out of place in the past, he shares his experience with different categories of students and how he prepares them to take on wicked problems outside of the school curriculum, with hopes they’ll become well-equipped for the dynamics of the world after graduation.

Creating Insights to Tackle Tomorrow’s Wicked Problems

The general practice in higher education is that professors hand materials to students and expect them to assimilate the material to get an ‘A’. Anything short of this means the student is neither good enough, nor smart, nor capable.

While this approach to teaching has long been the norm in general education, Paul disagrees. He tells Digication’s Scholars Conversation that this model of higher education is simply about checking boxes and not about preparing students for the main purpose of being in school, which isn’t merely to get good grades.


On identifying the different types of students in the classroom, Paul explains:

“you've got a variety of students. You've got students who have performed the traditional academic game really well and they can regurgitate the material. They can take the multiple-choice test and they know exactly how to write a paper in order to get an ‘A’ for their professor.” He explains that such students go on to encounter bosses who aren’t ready to hand them the template they need to excel or solve a problem. These students are now faced with an entirely different audience. The world suddenly becomes “a wicked and complicated place so the algorithms they were applying in university no longer work.”

For Paul, the goal is to ensure that the student from a rural community who is now in an urban University understands that they are just as capable as the student from a private school who raises their hand to answer every question.

While there may be a lot of conflicting forces against the student from the rural community, the general education ePortfolio is always available as a bridge that links everything together and helps the students that may lack confidence in the classroom to excel against the odds.

Paul also explains that there’s a need to pay attention to the students always putting up their hands in class. This student has done the reading, taken notes, and can apply what they’ve read. However, they are often quick to forget what they’ve read after a few days.

What prepares these students for the post-university world they are about to step into? For Paul, the real question is; “how do we align the educational system to the complexity of the world, and within that [sic] educational system make sure that all students at all levels reach their full capacity?”

The general education ePortfolio helps students to synthesize their learning and make connections across courses and other learning experiences such as internships, volunteering, and study abroad.

With this, when students in fields like Engineering encounter the dynamic wicked problems of the industry, later in life, they are able to solve the problems. They had received insights on how to tackle wicked problems during their days in the university, without sticking to the rigid system of regurgitating the content of their professors’ reading materials.

Paul also touches on how some professors resist active learning for so many reasons, some of which are valid reasons. However, he explains that there is a need to change what happens in the classroom. “Pure content delivery is simply not enough because a person can know all the content and walk into the world and not know what to do with it.”

Listen to this  Digication Scholars Conversation Podcast on YouTube to learn more about solving wicked problems and preparing students for the future. Don’t forget to subscribe to Digication’s YouTube Channel for more insights from experienced educators from different higher institutions across the globe.