In the 1980s, a coalition of workers worked with city leaders to establish a trust fund to provide housing subsidies for Chicago residents living in poverty. Now imagine if the coalition of housing activists came up with this idea but the city leaders did not agree to implement it. Society needs agents of change who can not only develop ideas to tackle complex challenges but also put those ideas into practice.
Currently, most college and university faculty members train students to develop ideas but not to implement them. Ideally, students might come up with the idea of a new vaccine education program for patients whose preferred language is not English. Students may present this idea to their professor at the end of the semester, but they will never experience the challenges of persuading the healthcare administrator, health department, and accrediting agencies to implement this service. The result is a lack of effective change agents and a society struggling to manage social crises such as epidemics, global poverty and climate change.
Teaching students how to make it happen
Faculty members train students to consider ways to deal with traditionally abstract complex challenges. For example, instructors usually ask students to create their own ideas for dealing with problems such as global poverty. Throughout the semester, they evaluate students’ developing ideas. They may ask: Do ideas seem possible? Are they sustainable? Do they solve the causes of poverty? By getting this feedback, students learn to come up with better ideas.
But the idea is just beginning to develop. Instructors need to train students to make purchases from stakeholders to make those ideas a reality. And this is true for challenges in any domain, because complex challenges have many stakeholders.
Remember the founders of Kiva: To tackle global poverty, they not only had to come up with ideas for crowdfunding microcredit, but they also had to buy from thousands of potential leaders. Similarly, to help less resourceful students with their writing skills, the founders of 826 Valencia not only came up with the idea of starting a writing center on a nearby storefront, but they also received funding, support from teachers, parents and local government. And to stop the spread of COVID-19, organizers in Southern California not only created the idea of using a mobile vaccination site to reach agricultural workers during their shifts, but they persuaded local governments, nonprofits, community organizations, and philanthropists to implement it. That idea
In order to train students in implementation, trainers need to introduce students to stakeholders and teach them how to buy-in stakeholders while developing their ideas. Consider again the problem of global poverty. If students want to learn to influence it, a faculty member cannot complete the lecture. Instead, at the beginning of the semester, the instructor must deliberately ask the students to develop and implement ideas for poverty alleviation. They must help students identify the stakeholders they can potentially work with – perhaps partnering with local nonprofits employed by international aid or using remote work technology to collaborate with international NGOs.
Throughout the semester, instructors should ask students to report on their developing ideas as well as the steps stakeholders have taken to demonstrate their buying and selling, such as investing money to fund microloans. Towards the end of the semester, students will come up with new ideas for tackling complex social challenges, as well as the support of the stakeholders they need to make those ideas a reality.
This may seem impossible, but it works when the trainers have sufficient resources. Faculty members and administrators felt that it was not possible for students to engage in rigorous scientific research until they had mastered a domain of scientific knowledge in graduate school. But we now know that students are able to conduct investigations and model based on scientific evidence early in elementary school – but there are ample resources to support these activities, including teacher training, curriculum and time. With the ongoing rollout of the Next Generation Science Standard, society is taking the importance of providing such resources to K-12 teachers and more students are learning to do scientific research than ever before. We now need to take on the equally important challenge of providing resources to teach implementation to college teachers.
How it works
In our combined 46 years of experience teaching and researching teaching methods, we have seen that when faculty are able to engage students in implementation, students accept it. For example, we once divided a class into groups A and B. We challenged both teams to a real-world climate change challenge, but we asked Team A to come up with an idea to tackle the challenge and we asked Team B to come up with an idea. And Implement it. Specifically, we asked Team A to create a low-cost way to help homeowners reduce their energy use.
At the end of the semester, Team A came up with an idea for an Energy Efficiency Scorecard that they created based on feedback from classmates and the teacher team throughout the semester. At the same time, we asked Team B to develop and implement an idea to protect vulnerable populations from extreme heat. Towards the end of the semester, Team B established a public-private partnership between city officials and local nonprofits to invest resources in public cooling centers. In the same semester, Team A learned how to develop ideas to solve real-world challenges, whereas Team B learned how to develop and implement those ideas.
Students and instructors can easily confuse ideas with facts. When students present their ideas to stakeholders in class, students mistakenly take stakeholder motivation as evidence that stakeholders want to implement their ideas. For example, Team A worked closely with a nonprofit program coordinator who visited classes each week throughout the semester, giving the team an animated response to their scorecard. But at the end of the semester, the nonprofit did not invest in the distribution of scorecards, as it was already satisfied with the resources posted on its website. Only when the instructor wants students to implement an idea can students understand the challenges of investing their time, money and energy into stakeholders.
How it should happen
It is easy to understand why instructors rarely train students in implementation. It is expensive বিশেষ especially compared to lectures and requires a significant amount of time investment. It takes time for faculty members to identify stakeholders willing to work with students in one semester and to teach students how to work effectively with stakeholders. For this, Deans, Provosts and Program Directors need to give trainers time to find stakeholders and create curricula to teach students to work with stakeholders. And that requires stakeholders to invest their time working with students with uncertified track records.
So, yes, it is expensive and time consuming. But it is less expensive than failing to cope with the social crisis. In the face of global poverty, epidemics and climate change, society needs to train change agents in both developing areas. And Implement ideas to address this crisis. And we all have a role to play in making that happen.
If you are a faculty member, try to help your students create such change agents. Start with a small test: Can you find a community organization where students can show up to complete a day’s service? As you gain experience and build relationships within the community, you can work with more stakeholders to engage students in longer projects.
If you are a provost, dean, or program director in higher education, consider how you can establish and support professional development programs that help train instructor students.
In addition, if you are a student, you can play your role by organizing your friends so that the administrators know that there is a high demand. If you are a donor or philanthropic fund manager, look for opportunities to fund these programs and support research to improve education implementation models. And if you work for a local government, a non-profit organization, or a social enterprise, consider how you can work with students at your local college or university in a mutually beneficial way.
This kind of action not only helps our students to learn but also works for the betterment of the society through their ideas. In fact, our future depends on it.