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The Wicked Problem of Climate Change (Winter 2023)

Course Overview

This interdisciplinary course provides a comprehensive overview of the wicked problem of climate change. Unlike ordinary problems, which are well-defined, self-contained, and come with a limited set of potential solutions, wicked problems resist definition, are mixed up with other problems, and cannot be solved in a way that is simple or final. As the pace of climate change accelerates and environmental and social impacts are increasingly being felt at the individual, community, and global level, there is a growing need for responses and solutions that crosscut disciplinary boundaries. This course approaches the wicked problem of climate change from diverse disciplinary perspectives (i.e., applied sciences, humanities, social sciences, and health sciences) to investigate the various dimensions of this global challenge. Topics addressed include the history of climate change and its scientific underpinnings, approaches to governance, climate change communication, and impacts on the natural environment, human health, society, culture, technology, and economies. The course prepares students to analyze the wicked problem of climate change from an interdisciplinary perspective, to evaluate and critique diverse perspectives on the issue, and to devise potential solutions for mitigating and adapting to climate change. 

Open to all undergraduate students in level 3A or higher, the Wicked Problem of Climate Change course took an innovative and interdisciplinary approach to investigate how climate change is impacting our way of life, combining both in-class and online learning. 

The innovation lay in its team of instructors – six PhD candidates, who are deep into their own explorations of climate change, enthusiastically led this blended learning course to examine aspects of climate change and the wicked problems it presents to humanity. The interdisciplinarity was found in the instructors (one from each of Waterloo’s six faculties) and in the undergraduate students who registered for the course from various disciplines.

The intention of all Wicked Problem courses is as follows:

  • Each PhD candidate brings disciplinary expertise to the course;
  • The teaching team receives mentorship and support with regard to course conception, design and integration;
  • Collectively, the course creates an interdisciplinary experience that fosters learning and integration of knowledge, methods and ways of knowing that could not be achieved within a single disciplinary approach.

Course Intended Learning Outcomes

  • Explain the core concepts of climate change and current mitigation and adaptation approaches.
  • Examine the wicked problem of climate change across applied sciences, humanities, social sciences, and health sciences, including interconnections between and limitations of each discipline.
  • Assess the impact of climate change on culture, societies, economies, technology, and the natural environment.
  • Compare diverse perspectives to articulate and evaluate your own position on climate change.
  • Collaborate with other students and combine disciplinary approaches to propose solutions to a climate change problem of your choice.
  • Develop interdisciplinary skills and identify how those skills can be used in your future studies and/or career.

Meet the Instructors

These PhD candidates spent the fall 2022 term in the Teaching Innovation Incubator, working together with Centre for Teaching Excellence education specialists to design and develop a course that will be a highlight in an undergraduate student’s degree. The course was offered in winter 2023.

Image of Donovan Allum

Faculty of Mathematics:

Donovan Allum is a PhD student in the Department of Applied Mathematics. He completed an undergraduate degree in mathematical physics and a master's degree in materials science studying election behaviour in materials at Trent University (Peterborough, Ontario). Donovan shifted disciplines when he moved to the University of Waterloo to pursue research with applications more closely linked with climate change and the environment. He now studies computer simulations of lakes at near freezing temperatures subjected to solar radiation, a domain of the environment that is sensitive to increasing surface temperatures. Donovan is interested in teaching and designing a course because of his passion for teaching and helping his peers. He believes that super specialization is sometimes a problem in the modern discourse which we can help rectify with interdisciplinary studies.

Image of Shahan Salim

Faculty of Health:

Shahan Salim is a PhD candidate in the School of Public Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo. His research interests focus on designing, developing, and implementing public health surveillance technologies. He is particularly interested in harnessing artificial intelligence (AI)-based ecosystems to generate novel (big) data streams for (digital) epidemiological purposes. Shahan’s PhD research involves using public health records and existing air-quality sensors and applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to create visualization tools to inform decision-makers of early predictors of health impacts. Outside academia, he is a self-proclaimed sportsaholic and stresses over all things Toronto sports.

Image of Débora Andrade-Pereira

Faculty of Science:

Débora Andrade-Pereira is a PhD candidate in the Department of Biology (Cuddington Lab), where she researches impacts of neglected climate change phenomena to plant performance and invasion risks in North America. Her interests also include science education, and her master's was focused on making science more accessible to a culturally diversified undergraduate student population. Débora is passionate about collaborative manners of producing knowledge. Her academic journey includes both science and arts learning and teaching in Brazil and Canada. She is looking forward to sharing relevant ecological findings and to learning together about ways to tackle climate change biological impacts.

Image of Jerika Sanderson

Faculty of Arts:

Jerika Sanderson is a PhD candidate in the Department of English Language and Literature, and her background is in both English literature and biological sciences. Her research combines science communication, science fiction, and critical posthumanism to investigate biotechnologies that have been proposed as solutions to environmental issues, and how they are represented across genres. For example, her current project focuses on the concept of de-extinction, and how attempts to re-create extinct species are represented both in popular culture and scientific discourse. The goal in analyzing these representations is to develop a better understanding of the ethical concerns arising from the applications of new biotechnologies. Incorporating an interdisciplinary approach is essential to addressing environmental problems, so Jerika’s excited to participate in co-developing and co-instructing the Wicked Problem of Climate Change course!

Image of Shehryar Khan

Faculty of Engineering:

Shehryar Khan is a research engineer and senior PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering who completed his Honors BASc in Mechanical Engineering with Distinction and a Minor in Economics. His research focus is on the advanced processing of different types of pure metals and metallic alloys, and his research expertise is in advanced materials characterization, advanced mechanical testing and failure analysis, with a strong foundation in materials processing (i.e., coating techniques, heat treatment, laser welding, laser cladding, arc and laser brazing, and laser-arc hybrid brazing). Shehryar is a recipient of the NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship and has won several other awards and scholarships during his time as a graduate student. As an engineer and a researcher, Shehryar’s work is geared towards the automotive industry, focusing on finding novel solutions to weld and join different types of advanced materials to produce vehicle bodies that are simultaneously lighter and stronger. The applications of his research work are deeply rooted in the combined global effort by the automotive industry to improve the efficiency of modern vehicles and minimize their impact on the ever-growing problem of climate change. Shehryar is extremely passionate about his research and teaching, and that is what drove him to want to participate in this project because it gave him the opportunity to actively work to develop content for a fantastic course that would give him the opportunity to teach undergraduate students about the current ongoing impact of climate change in the field of advanced manufacturing.

Image of Kayleigh Swanson

Faculty of Environment:

Kayleigh Swanson is a PhD student in the School of Planning where her research considers how local governments might advance climate action planning that is both ambitious and equitable. Kayleigh holds degrees in Peace and Conflict Studies and Global Governance and has experience implementing poverty reduction and climate change adaptation strategies in South America, East Africa, and Southeast Asia. Kayleigh looks forward to exploring the Wicked Problem of Climate Change through a social science lens to address the human dimension of climate change and consider the lines of intersection between climate change and social equity.