Problem Solving

Problem solving may be the quintessential expression of human thinking.

National Research Council, 2012

CEOs, HR executives, college presidents, faculty, and students demonstrate remarkable consensus that problem-solving is one of the most important outcomes of a college education (Bok, 2017; Hart Research Associates, 2015; Hora, Benbow, Oleson, 2016; Passow & Passow, 2017). However, nationally, a scant majority of college seniors report that they are well-prepared to be effective problem solvers -- and fewer than a quarter of employers perceive graduating students to be competent at this key skill (Hart Research Associates).

The Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning is engaged in a number of initiatives to enhance Brown University students’ capacities for effective problem solving. These initiatives are part of the Brown Learning Collaborative and include:

  • The Problem-Solving Fellows Program is anchored by a rigorous academic course focused on helping Undergraduate TAs be effective peer teachers in STEM courses that focus on group problem-solving. The students in UNIV 1110, “The Theory and Practice of Problem Solving,” also reflect on their own learning, in order to become highly effective problem solvers themselves. Read a Brown Daily Herald article about this course.
  • The Problem-Solving Course Design Institute offers faculty evidence-based practices for designing problems that promote student learning. Faculty participate in a series of lunchtime workshops and they are then invited to participate in an Institute, often in partnership with graduate or undergraduate TAs. Faculty receive an award to implement ideas developed in the institute.

Please see this page for a Sheridan newsletter on strategies for teaching problem solving.

For more information about the Sheridan Center’s problem-solving initiatives, please contact [email protected].


Bok, D. (2017). The struggle to reform our colleges. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Hart Research Associates. (2015). Falling short? College learning and career success. Survey carried out for AAC&U. Available:

Hora, M.T., Benbow, R. J., & Oleson, A. K.. (2016). Beyond the skills gap: Preparing college students for life and work. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

National Research Council. (2012). Discipline-based education research: Understanding and improving learning in undergraduate science and engineering. S.R. Singer, N.R. Nielsen, and H.A. Schweingruber, Editors. Committee on the Status, Contributions, and Future Directions of Discipline-Based Education Research. Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Passow, H.J., & Passow, C.H. (2017). What competencies should undergraduate engineering programs emphasize? A systematic review. Journal of Engineering Education, 106(3): 475-526.