SYMP 15-1 - Wicked problems in ecology teaching and learning: Framing the challenge

Wednesday, August 9, 2017: 1:30 PM
Portland Blrm 253, Oregon Convention Center
Alan R. Berkowitz, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, NY, Carol Brewer, University of Montana, Berthoud, CO, Carmen R. Cid, School of Arts and Sciences, Eastern Connecticut State University, Willimantic, CT, Jennifer H. Doherty, Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, Diane Ebert-May, Plant Biology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, Kenneth M. Klemow, Biology, Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA, George A. Middendorf, Biology Department, Howard University, Washington, DC, Teresa Mourad, Education & Diversity Programs, Ecological Society of America, Washington, DC, Nalini M. Nadkarni, Center for Science and Mathematics Education, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT and Bob R. Pohlad, Natural Science and Mathematics, Ferrum College, Ferrum, VA

Ecology education faces wicked problems given the sparse and disparate information available about ecology learning and cognition, the expanding diversity of learners and stakeholders we work with, and the changing nature of our discipline. What are the wicked problems in ecology education and how can we make progress in resolving them? Wicked problems have these characteristics: 1) They resist definition, shifting as different stakeholders weigh in with conflicting perspectives, values and norms. 2) The knowledge needed to solve them is limited, lacking or even contradictory, due to system complexity, our limited capacity and resources and uncharted territory. 3) It is difficult to gauge success or resolution. Wicked problems have no stopping rule, no immediate test, and no true-false measures of success. We can know only better or worse. Using this framework, talks in this symposium will look at many of the key topics of ecology as wicked problems in themselves. Here, we will explore questions about ecology education as a wicked problem itself.


1) Ecology education resists definition. Who is it for and what do we hope can be done with it? Who is asking and answering these questions? The National Research Council has attempted it for K-12 science (NGSS) and Vision and Change for college biology, pushing beyond ‘coverage’ of topics to empowering all citizens to be literate agents of change. They promote an ambitious interweaving of concepts, practices and cross-cutting ways of thinking. ESA’s recent effort is a four dimensional framework for ecology education (4DEE), adding human ecology as an overlapping but distinct focus. How would these definitions change as different stakeholders weigh in – ecology scholars and practitioners, students, politicians, employers? 2) Knowledge about ecology teaching and learning is inadequate. How can we practice the craft of teaching when we don’t know how students learn ecology, and when the practitioners are separate from scholars of learning? Do efforts to empower ecology teachers to be scholars bear fruit? Are the student-active, constructivist and problem-based learning approaches, engagement in research and inquiry, citizen science and civic science well founded? 3) Measuring progress in ecology education is fraught. Should ESA have an eco-literacy test for all students, teachers and/or certified ecologists? What would be on such a test and who would judge the results? Lastly, will discuss the interplay between the three characteristics and how they are affected by the currently shifting climate for ecology and education in the US.