What is a "Challenges" Course in the Crossings Curriculum? An overview & Guide for faculty & INSTRUCTORS

This site is designed to provide information and elicit ideas for what Challenges courses should entail in the new general education curriculum, "Crossings."

As you read through the information & watch videos, think about what next steps you may have or information you may need. The end goal is to either prepare to submit a course for review or to ask for additional information in preparing a course.


  1. Transitioning a Course
  2. What Is a "Challenge"?
  3. Opportunities for Engaged Learning
  4. Course Sequencing and Interdisciplinarity
  5. Assignments
  6. Wrap-Up & What's Next


Multiple existing courses across multiple disciplines are suitable for revision or modification into Challenges courses through explicit connection to the student learning outcomes.

Additionally, Clemson students currently involved in engaged learning opportunities for elective credit could earn credit within the Crossings curriculum, creating additional alignment and efficiency.

It is necessary that Challenges courses have a strong emphasis on the student learning outcomes. Through taking courses with a focus on Challenges, students will:

  1. Demonstrate critical thinking through analysis of challenges,
  2. Evaluate how varying perspectives influence challenges,
  3. Demonstrate the integration of ethics into analysis of challenges.

(Of the three learning outcomes above, each Challenges course must address at least two.)

TO CONSIDER: Might you have a course that you would like to modify or adapt? As you read the information below, think about what resources you are interested in exploring or those that you would need.



As we think about courses and course design/redesign, it is important to think about the content and scope of what a challenge is.

A challenge may be global, local, regional, national, international, virtual, and/or philosophical in nature.

A challenge transcends disciplines. The study of challenges cultivates interdisciplinary thinking, stimulating students' intellectual development through integrative processing, systems thinking, metacognition, and/or self-awareness in relation to a position of knowledge.

The idea of students examining challenges (epecially global or universal challenges) as part of the general education curriculum came out of several semesters of discussion and data analysis by Clemson faculty, staff, and students. There is no single comprehensive list of challenges from which instructors should choose. Challenges are always arising and evolving, and any list is always in flux.

At the same time, many faculty find inspiration for challenges in the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals, the NSF 10 Big Ideas, the NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering, the Wicked Problems framework, and IDEO's open design. Multiple resources exist at the intersections between disciplines.

When identifying a Challenge, we seek to know:

1. How is the challenge shared (ex: among nations, fields, industries)?

2. What is the scope of the challenge (ex: temporally, geographically, those impacted)?

3. What is its impact for us and our world (ex: local, regional, global)?

The following video from Dr. Kyle Anderson (Senior Director for Global Engagement) provides some additional illustration on Challenges as he conceptualizes an example and how to incorporate it into coursework.

Why you should be sure to watch the video: Follow Dr. Anderson as he works through shaping an idea into a Challenge!


1. A challenge may focus on or connect to a current unresolved issue. This does not preclude an exploration of the historical perspective that sheds light on the complexity and roots of the topic.

2. There is not just one solution to a challenge. We want students to consider intractable, complex, and wicked problems. This requires multiple perspectives, tools, and solutions, a departure from the “one answer" mentality that plagues much of the current educational system.

3. It is a significant challenge worthy of extensive, coordinated efforts to address. This implies it is nontrivial, pressing, and broadly consequential. A significant portion of humanity is, or will be soon, affected by this challenge.

4. A challenge requires engagement with multiple perspectives that should be appropriately acknowledged, considered, and valued. This creates a comprehensive view of a challenge that includes inputs, concerns and considerations across time, place, culture, race, and more.

TO CONSIDER: Does a course you teach incorporate one or more challenges? What resources are you interested in exploring or would you need to prepare and teach the course content?


The Challenges area ensures a shared experience distinct to a Clemson undergradute education. Students will be not only studying challenges, but in many cases will also be working to address them. By design and when possible, Challenges courses should include engaged learning opportunities, thereby allowing all of our undergraduate students to take advantage of our institution's resources and land-grant mission.

The following video from Dr. Bridget Trogden (Associate Dean for Engagement & General Education) goes over a few examples of high-impact educational practices that could be incorporated into courses along with the content of Challenges.

Why you should watch the video: Do you want the courses you teach to be high-impact and continue to contribute to students' intellectual ponderings for years to come? Engaged learning is an avenue!

TO CONSIDER: Does a course you teach currently incorporate engaged learning opportunities? Are you interested in learning more on modifications or adaptations to do so? What resources are you interested in exploring or would you need to prepare and teach the course with engaged learning?


The Challenges courses extend to and build upon skills and knowledge acquired in the Communication and Ways of Knowing areas.

Accordingly, at least 3 credit hours of the Challenges requirement will be from courses at the 3000-level or above. This sequencing within the Crossings curriculum helps students create meaning as the general education student learning outcomes cross with majors, minors, and additional depth.

TO CONSIDER: Does a course you teach touch on a Challenge through an interdisciplinary approach? What pre-requisite courses or knowledge are essential, versus preferred? What resources are you interested in exploring or would you need to prepare and teach the course?

The Course Review page on the Crossings website may also be useful to you.


You have identified a course to transition or design, have thought through the content of a challenge or challenges, considered engaged learning, and learned about sequencing and interdisciplinarity.

TO CONSIDER: What types of assignments will you be using in this Challenges course? How do an assignment or a series of assignments address at least two of the Challenges learning outcomes? What assignment will be the signature assignment?


The premise of a signature assignment is described in this short video by Dr. Bridget Trogden.

You may wish to enroll in the Learning-focused Assignment Design course in Clemson's Canvas to access resources for building and self-evaluating your signature assignment using inclusive design practices. You can also directly access the design guide here.


How do we design a challenge assignment for a one-semester course? In this 2 minute video, Dr. Claire Dancz, research associate in the Watt Family Innovation Center and project lead on Grand Challenges, explains some of the factors that can help you determine scope within an assignment.

Watch the Challenges Scope video to learn about scoping your challenges assignment.


Let's sum up your steps. In this short video, Dr. Taimi Olsen (Executive Director of OTEI) talks about integrating the pieces of evidence-based course design for a Challenges course to impact student learning.


We want to know what you are thinking at this point, based on what you have learned.

(IMPORTANT! Please don't skip this step!)

We will be creating a variety of learning communities and institutes in spring 2021 and beyond, with a variety of modalities and time commitments. The feedback you provide helps campus partners design opportunities and provide resources to support our shared curriculum.

If you believe that you are prepared to submit a course for review in the Challenges area to be included in the fall 2022 catalog, please submit a "Gen Ed Course Review" form using Curriculog. Be sure to do the following.

  1. Please read the Curriculog Guidelines document for instructions.
  2. Please prepare an updated syllabus, where the Challenges learning outcomes are clearly integrated into the course, the signature assignment is apparent, and where there is a topical or by-week outline of what the course will cover.
  3. Please read the Course Review page on the Crossings Curriculum website.

Contributors and Contacts

General Education Commitee Members

Dr. Bridget Trogden, Associate Dean, Division of Undergraduate Studies, trogden@clemson.edu

Dr. Taimi Olsen, Director, and Karen Franklin, Specialist, OTEI, otei@clemson.edu

Dr. Kyle Anderson, Senior Director, Office of Global Engagement and Associate Professor, kdander@clemson.edu

Dr. Claire Dancz, Research Associate for Education Systems, Watt Family Innovation Center and Faculty Director, Grand Challenge Scholars Program, cdancz@clemson.edu

Created By
Bridget Trogden