Small Group Study: Campus Stress as a Wicked Problem 2

Course Number: 
05-588/ 05-688 B
Semester and Units: 
Spring 2017: variable units
Course Description: 

***You must complete the Small Group Study form (attached PDF) to register for this course***​

wicked problem is one that is difficult to solve because of a vague definition, complex interdependencies, and hidden constraints. The use of term "wicked" denotes resistance to resolution, rather than evil. Stress at Carnegie Mellon looks like a wicked problem.

This course is intended to bring about a positive, durable change to Carnegie Mellon student life. The entire process takes at least a year, this course is the first phase. We will use a design practice called Positive Deviance, which enables communities to discover and spread their own hidden solutions.

To accomplish this, you will learn these skills:

  • The Positive Deviance Method for Solving Cultural Problems
  • Literature Research
  • Interviewing
  • Studying Behavior in Large Populations

What Has Already Happened

This class is a continuation of Class Stress as a Wicked Problem that convened in the fall of 2016. We gathered a lot of opinions about stress from the campus. These were organized into an affinity diagram, which you are free to read and add to. We decided to focus our attention on student sleep habits because:
  • Sleep behavior is simple to quantify.
  • Research has shown a regular sleep regime enhances one's performance.
  • Many students don't get enough sleep, about 60%.
  • Most people agree that getting regular sleep is a good idea.
We adopted a very concrete, ambitious goal: 100% of students sleep continuously, for 7-9 hours with consistent wake-up time.
We began to collect data on many students and hope to have identified some who have already achieved this goal, called the Positive Deviants (PDs).
This Semester's Activity
We will continue this work, completing data collection, if necessary, and proceed to study the details of PD behavior. Eventually we would recruit them into an effort to disseminate their habits. We will also develop a low-effort method of tracking sleep behavior for the entire student body. 
Generally, the goals and activities will be decided upon by the students.
Signing Up
Officially, the class is a group independent study (05-588), requiring completing a form to be registered. The number of units is negotiable, and P/NP is an option.
The nominal units for the course is six units. For three units, a student should participate in half the course and one of the reports. More than six units are possible if you perform suitable additional tasks.
Communication Technology
  • A Google Drive folder, Campus Stress, will be used to share material. 
  • A Google group, Positive Deviance, will be used for discussion. It is best to ask questions there so the answers are available to all. 


The class will meet on Wednesdays from 1:30 to 3:00 in GHC 7501. Most class time will be spent planning studies and discussing results. (This is subject to change depending upon participants' preferences.


  • A report on PD behavior.
  • A baseline estimate of the number of students practicing the desired sleep behavior. 
Other instructors: 
Jacobo Carrasquel
Monique Mead
James Morris