Running head: WICKED PROBLEMS OF EDUCATION                                                   

Wicked Problems of Education:

How to Keep Formal Education Relevant

Tara Guysky, Matt Meeuwse, Sheila Orr, Erkin Yusupov

Michigan State University

Today, an increasing number of people argue that schools are not preparing students for the work place where ideas are interconnected and people work together.  Schools are failing to teach aspects of life such as interacting with others in world situations. Within education, teachers and administration face difficult times when keeping up with the ever changing educational system.  As educators, we must find ways to keep formal education relevant within the changing system.  Although technology has become prevalent in society today, “tools are dangerous when they control us and we don’t control them” (Gee, 2013, p.256).  Students have the capability of learning on their own with the use of the internet through tools such as Khan Academy, but what they gain from formal education is how to apply the information in a meaningful way.  Studies show that students learn the best through a collaboration of ideas while challenging their own thoughts and opinions with other students.  Therefore, collaborative problem solving, with the teacher facilitating projects and scaffolding meaningful student interaction, is necessary to keep formal education relevant.  

Teachers are no longer the key holders of content anymore.  However, if we keep approaching education in this way, using new forms of technology to reinforce old pedagogical practices, we will not be able keep formal education relevant because content, books, facts, and lectures can be found anywhere. Richard Culatta in his 2013 TEDX talk argues, there is a serious digital divide between, “those who know how to use technology to reimagine learning and those who simply use technology to digitize traditional learning practices” (Culatta, 2013). Use of technology alone will not fix education, nor will it help students learn important lessons, nor will it keep education relevant.  “A key purpose of school and college must be to allow students to find passions for a good life and not just a good job.  But this will require a paradigm shift in schools and colleges.  They will have to stress not only that different people find different passions, but also be able to teach others and learn new things from others as they will need to combine their passions with others’ for larger projects” (Gee, 2013, p. 213).  Therefore, the solution to keeping formal education relevant does not lie in a single solution. Rather, the overall purpose and focus of education has to shift fundamentally.  

However, this fundamental shift is not difficult.  It is possible to make this core change through Project Based Learning and collaborative problem solving.  Making this change will not only begin educating students in the ways they need to be for the 21st century, it will also help teachers reimagine their roles in the classroom and use technology most effectively.  Countless studies have been done showing the effectiveness of collaborative problem solving.  In a study done at Wayne State University, students worked in groups to complete exams, after having learned the content outside of the classroom online.  “With collaborative group learning, students were responsible for and facilitated individual success by working together to solve problems and find solutions. Collaborative interactions promoted the exchange of ideas that enhanced connections between present and past learning (Lujan & DiCarlo, Dec 2014).  These types of experiences built connections and helped the students learn and retain more than had they taken the exams individually.  Importantly, “Collaborative group learning has the additional advantage that students learn course content as well as the interpersonal skills required to work together effectively. This is important because employment opportunities in the future will require employees to work cooperatively to solve problems and develop solutions” (Lujan & DiCarlo, Dec 2014).  Working in groups to solve problems not only enhances learning, it provides important education on building relationships with peers and mentors.

Where do teachers and formal education fit into this experience?  One does not simply learn to work effectively in a group immediately. The experience needs to be scaffolded and taught properly.  If there is a road block, students need to have a mentor with experience to provide support, feedback, and advice.  This, undoubtedly, is a job for a teacher or instructor.  This concept is supported by TPACK.  Teachers have specific and specialized content and pedagogical knowledge that is essential for student learning based on experiences and their own education. But that is not enough.  Teachers also need to integrate technology into this framework thoughtfully and effectively. With help of TPACK Institutions can rethink teaching by “Representing four more knowledge bases teacher's applicable to teaching with technology” (TPACK, Mishra & Koehler, 2009). None of these, neither technology, content, or pedagogy, should be seen or approached as separate entities.  “Effective technology integration for pedagogy around specific subject matter requires developing sensitivity to the dynamic, transactional relationship between these components of knowledge situated in unique contexts” (TPACK, Mishra & Koehler, 2009).

By changing the classroom into a more collaborative environment in which students solve problems and do projects collaboratively, teachers can assume new roles and begin using technology to support these endeavors.   Even in collaborative learning situations students still need opportunities to practice skills and procedures. Tools such as Khan Academy allow students the freedom to work at their own pace outside of school to learn and practice the procedures, allowing more time during class for collaboration with classmates. Khan Academy is supported by credible sources in one platform, allowing teachers to feel comfortable knowing their students are learning facts using technology.   A teacher or instructor still helps curate the content, but it is not the sole purpose.  

As our society continues to change and become more technologically savvy, formal education is more critical than ever. As Gee stated, “Digital tools can make better minds and a better society, but they cannot do this by themselves” (Gee, 2013, p. 215).  We cannot just send our students out to learn on their own; they need to participate in an institution that teaches them how to utilize these tools in a collaborative way, developing skills that transfer to the workplace. Formal education--through the changes we proposed--will allow students to do just that, keeping it relevant in this constantly changing world.


Culatta, R. (2013). Reimagining learning: Richard Culatta at TesxBeaconStreet [Video File].

Retrieved on July 21, 2015 from

Gee, J.P. (2013). The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1), 60-70.

Lujan, H.L., & DiCarlo, S.E. (2014). The flipped exam: creating an environment in which students discover for themselves the concepts and principles we want them to learn. Advances in Physiology Education, 38(4). Retrieved July 23, 2015, from 

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9620.2006.00684.x.

Xiaoqing Gu, Shan Chen, Wenbo Zhu, & Lin Lin. (2015) An intervention framework designed to develop the collaborative problem-solving skills of primary school students [Electronic Version]. Educational Technology Research and Development 63(1), 143-159.