BAY-SIC labs are not so basic

Five social innovation labs are offered through BAY-SIC, which stands for Baylor Social Innovation Collaborative. Photo credit: Penelope Shirey

By Rylee Seavers | Staff Writer

Baylor will offer five social innovation lab courses in fall 2017 meant to address “wicked problems” in society that cannot be solved in one field and require a transdisciplinary approach, according to Baylor’s Hope Abounds blog.

A “wicked problem” is defined as a complex issue that has multiple different dimensions and no clear solution, according to the Baylor Social Innovation Collaborative Initiative website.

The courses offered will address campus hunger, child migration, human trafficking, at-risk elderly populations in Waco and water in communities. These courses are part of designing a new way of teaching and learning, said Dr. Andy Hogue, professor in the Honors College and director of the philanthropy and public service program, who is responsible for the development and implementation of the new courses.

Hogue said these five topics were chosen because there are strong partnerships among the faculty members involved in the planning, and the courses were ready to be taught. Hogue said the idea behind addressing these issues from a “transdisciplinary” angle is that addressing certain problems from only one angle could make it worse, even though a solution is well-intentioned.

“When it’s a problem that has multiple points of exposure and multiple causes and multiple outcomes, often we’re best when we can bring good minds together from all of those, or as many of those angles as we can in order to think about ‘if we approach it from this angle, what happens over here?’” Hogue said.

Hogue also said the goal is to generate new ideas to address some of these wicked problems. They are also hoping to develop new skills in students that will help them address these difficult problems in the future.

“Many of these issues require us to look for innovation and to look for a solution across sectors in our society – to bring people together around these problems,” Hogue said.

Charles Walter, director of the Mayborn Museum Complex, is involved in the planning of the “Healthy River, Healthy Community” course. Walter had been working with other Baylor faculty members to develop a course that deals with water in communities for about a year before the Provost’s Office announced the Social Innovation Lab courses. The course is about appreciating the water that we have “in our backyard” while still understanding all the demands and functions of the river.

Walter said that the course will involve spending time on the Brazos River. It will explore the life forms that are on the river and use the Mayborn’s collection of specimens that have been collected from McLennan County.

“We want to give them a real, first-hand sense of the river and what it’s all about from a natural state, but also, just as importantly, what are the economics that are driving family farms or industry or energy production?” Walter said.

In addition, Walter said these courses will be great because they will not be composed of homogenous groups of students. Students of all different majors will work together on these issues, which reflects society, Walter said.

Hogue said these courses will be life changing, not just for students but for the people who are affected by these problems.

“This is not just about caring about a cause. This is about learning the skills, the mindsets of innovation,” Hogue said.

All of the courses are action-oriented and will have some hands-on aspect, though that will look different in each course. Hogue said he hopes to see this program expand in the future to include more courses and programs. These courses represent a significant moment for Baylor, Hogue said, because a new model of problem solving through transdisciplinary learning is being implemented in a way that is meant to produce action.