Integrating Complexity - A Notre Dame Core Curriculum Course

Author: CCI Staff

Endless Problems

When the update to the Notre Dame Core Curriculum included the new Ways of Knowing (WoK) track, it reflected the belief that a Notre Dame education should produce students with a wide range of intellectual capacities so that they are better prepared to make a difference in the world. The Complex Problem-Solving in the Public Sphere course, taught by  CCI’s Associate Director for Research DanielleWood and CCI’s Director Jay Brockman, was one of the first Integration courses within the WoK track to be approved.  The WoK track explicitly seeks to develop in students the capacity to better grapple with the complex, enduring problems of our time through integrative learning across disciplines.  

Now beginning its fourth year, the central aim of Complex Problem-Solving in the Public Sphere is to equip students to explore the tensions between technical problem-solving and the public interest as we move into an increasingly technological future. For example, if climate change modeling indicates a new 30-year flood plain, do individuals have the right to not be moved out of harm’s way? What are the moral and public interest questions embedded in this decision point? In asking these questions, we revisit socio-technical tensions from the mid-20th century to set the stage and examine the interface of these issues in complex settings. Students work on case-based application of the concepts covered in the course – which range from defining the public interest, power and civic agency, measurement and data quality, objectives, variables, and constraints in modeling and optimization problems, and culturally situating ‘optimal’ solutions. 

Last fall, aside from the Notre Dame faculty that joined for specific topics, guest faculty from Dublin City University highlighted climate adaptation challenges in Irish communities that parallel Midwestern ones. Aims for the evolution of the class include developing opportunities to partner with regional communities for case analysis, as well as building fuller integration with international partners for understanding the role of context in complex challenges.