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 a $2,000 grant to implement ideas developed in the institute.

Modules on problem-solving are also incorporated into Sheridan new instructor orientations and departments may request a customized workshop on this topic as well.

For more information about the Sheridan Center’s problem-solving initiatives, please contact



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.