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The Common Problem Project


March 21, 2019 / 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM


Center for Faculty Development and Innovation (Lovejoy Library 2030)

The Common Problem Project

Sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Research and Informatics Scholarship (IRIS) Center


James Liszka

Director, Center for Interdisciplinary and Area Studies

Senior Scholar, Center for Ethics in Public Life

Professor of Philosophy

State University of New York, College at Plattsburgh


Thursday, March 21, 2019




Center for Faculty Development and Innovation (Lovejoy Library Second Floor)



Last year a committee at SIUE was awarded National Endowment for the Humanities funds to plan the Digital Community Engagement Pathway (DCEP), a program for students who will take a set of core courses emphasizing interdisciplinary research and problem-solving methods. Students will meet in small research-team courses facilitated by their mentoring professor and a community organization to address such major social problems in our region as food insecurity and helping immigrant communities form a sense of belonging. The teams will use interdisciplinary methods to analyze, visualize, and share their work with the broader public using data mining, mapping, storytelling, networking, and cultural analytics. The DCEEP committee has brought in Professor Liszka to share his work on the similarly designed Common Problem Project.

The Common Problem Project is a consortium of five State University of New York campuses, and is funded by the National Science Foundation, the State University of New York and Teagle Foundation. The purpose of the project is to promote cross-disciplinary teaching and learning, while developing problem-solving skills and civic engagement in students. Faculty from different disciplines are paired and their relevant, existing classes are coordinated to include a joint project, focused on a problem or problems of common interest. The problem can be either local, regional, or wider still. Students work in cross-disciplinary teams to devise solutions to the problem(s). Community partners and instructors serve as expert sources, but emphasis is placed on the self-direction of the learning in student teams. The pedagogy incorporates a number of what AACU calls high impact practices, including problem-based and project learning, team-work, and community engagement.

The talk will give an overview of the pedagogy, practice and logistics of doing common problem projects. Several examples will be used to illustrate the variety of projects and their impact on students and communities, including SUNY Oswego’s “Good Neighbor” project, promoting local business, the “Sustainability in the Schools” project at SUNY Oneonta, involving a collaboration of elementary, secondary, and college students. The “Sustainability and Film” project at SUNY Plattsburgh, and the “Stigma in the Opioid Crisis,” a collaboration among SUNY Queensbury, SUNY Plattsburgh, and Roosevelt University in Chicago. Several other classroom collaborations will be discussed.

About the Presenter:


James Liszkra is currently Senior Scholar at the Institute for Ethics in Public Life and Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York, College at Plattsburgh. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of Alaska Anchorage. His scholarship includes The Semiotic Theory of Myth: A Study of the Symbol (Indiana University Press, 1989), a work on narrative theory, and A General Introduction to the Semeiotic of Charles S. Peirce (Indiana University Press, 1996), now considered a classic in the field. The book has been translated into Chinese (Sichuan University Press, 2014) and Korean (Hankuk University Press, 2013). Prof. Liszka also published a textbook on ethics, Moral Competence (Prentice-Hall, 2002), now in its second edition. Prof. Liszka received a number of grants, including a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to direct a summer institute on environmental ethics at the University of Alaska Anchorage, grants from the Chinese Ministry of Education (Hanaban) to establish a Confucius Institute at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He also received grants from the Teagle Foundation, the State University of New York, and the National Science Foundation, for the development of a new, problem-based pedagogy. Prof. Liszka has been a strong advocate of active, experiential and service learning. At the University of Alaska Anchorage, he helped to establish the Center for Community Engagement and Learning, and, The Center for Community Engagement at SUNY Plattsburgh. During his tenure as Provost, he led the development of applied learning, resulting in nearly all academic and professional programs requiring some form of experiential learning in the curriculum.


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