A Design Thinking Approach to Disentangle the Wicked Problem of Re-Curriculation during a Pandemic





Curriculation, Design Thinking, Solution-focused, Value-based curriculum, Wicked problem


Covid-19 continues to cause major disruptions and unique challenges in the higher education sector. Some of the most profound disruptions are in health sciences where students depend on current, up-to-date information, interdisciplinary collaboration, and work-integrated learning to acquire the needed skill set to become proficient clinical practitioners. Combining the Covid-19 pandemic with emergency remote teaching and an outdated 25-year-old non-responsive, fragmented curriculum created the perfect storm for a wicked problem. (A problem that is almost impossible to solve due to incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognise.) In this article, the authors share their journey-in-process of design thinking disentanglement to solve this current and wicked problem. Shortly before the start of the pandemic, the specific medical school under study embarked on a re-curriculation process—a process that was rudely and abruptly distorted and tangled by the pandemic. However, despite the initial setback, they continue with this mammoth task, basing their activities on “design thinking” principles. They purposively approach this task from within a human-centred, value-based, solution-focused, action-orientated and systematic reasoning process.  The five intertwined, non-linear design thinking phases of empathise (stake-holder analysis and data collection), define (data analysis and problem statement), ideate (possible solutions), prototype (integrated draft curriculum) and test (stake-holder feedback and input) were adopted as a method to facilitate and expedite the re-curriculation process. The process discussed in this manuscript has value beyond the health sciences. The approach to storyboarding, creating, and unpacking a new curriculum is applicable to all disciplines in multiple educational settings.

Author Biographies

Johanna Catharina (Irene) Lubbe, Central European University

*Corresponding author: Dr JC (Irene) Lubbe

Senior Lecturer and Researcher

Postal address: Center for Teaching and Learning, Central European University – Private University, Quellenstrasse 51, A-1100 Wien, Austria 

Contact details:  +43 1 25237 475 

E-mail address: lubbei@ceu.edu

Sumaiya Adam, University of Pretoria

Associate Professor, Head of Clinical Unit: Obstetrics

Maternal and Fetal Medicine Specialist

Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Steve Biko Academic Hospital

Postal address: University of Pretoria Faculty of Health Sciences, School of Medicine, University of Pretoria, Private Bag X323, Arcadia, 0007, Pretoria, South Africa

E-mail address: sumaiya.adam@up.ac.za

Werner Cordier, University of Pretoria

Associate Professor

Postal address: Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Health Sciences, School of Medicine, University of Pretoria, Private Bag X323, Arcadia, 0007, Pretoria, South Africa

E-mail address: werner.cordier@up.ac.za


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How to Cite

Lubbe, Johanna Catharina (Irene), Sumaiya Adam, and Werner Cordier. 2023. “A Design Thinking Approach to Disentangle the Wicked Problem of Re-Curriculation During a Pandemic”. Progressio 44:22 pages. https://doi.org/10.25159/2663-5895/11062.



Received 2022-04-03
Accepted 2023-09-22
Published 2023-10-16