Academic identities and teaching wicked problems: how to ‘shoot a fog’ in a complex landscape

Velda McCune*, Jenny Scoles, Sharon Boyd, Andy Cross, Pete Higgins, Rebekah Tauritz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Policy makers increasingly call on higher education to prepare learners for challenges such as global health emergencies or ecological crises. These can be understood as ‘wicked problems’, which are unbounded, complex and resist simplistic definition. Wicked problems involve stakeholders with incompatible value positions and attempted solutions can result in unforeseen outcomes. How academics stay committed to teaching about such challenging topics–despite the many difficulties of contemporary higher education–is an under-researched area. In this study, we interviewed academics who were deeply engaged with teaching about wicked problems. We drew on the concepts of landscapes of practice, boundary work and academic identities to make sense of the teachers’ persistence and practices in this space. We conclude with advice for policy makers on how to support academics in this work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-179
JournalHigher Education Research and Development
Issue number1
Early online date11 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2024


  • Academic identities
  • boundaries
  • higher education
  • landscapes of practice
  • wicked problems


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