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Problem Solving for the Real World

The Tennessee Teaching & Learning Center held a World Cafe discussion with representatives from multiple UT departments about integrating problem solving into the classroom. We’ve compiled the notes from the discussion below. Check them out for some ideas on how to teach real world problem solving skills in your courses!

Question: In your discipline’s professions, what problems are you solving? How can we bring this into classroom experiences?

Important Take-Aways

  • We need to prepare students for a shifting workforce.
  • Field trips are useful for showing, not telling.
  • It is important to let students fail.
  • Teaching problem solving skills is more practical than teaching specific knowledge because that knowledge may become outdated.
  • Ask students to unpack the larger social issues and problems of their discipline to help them understand the goals of their field.

General Suggestions

  • Increasing language skills
    • Students can volunteer as translators for community services for Spanish speaking communities (e.g. refugee services, hospitals, schools).
  • Finding internship opportunities
    • UT Facilities Services has internships for students in many departments (e.g. architecture, interior design, sustainability, CAD design, environmental studies, among others).
  • Teaching English
    • Connect students to the English Language Institute.
  • Making it “count”
    • Give a grade for all work.
    • Require service hours to bring ‘real world’ learning into the classroom.
  • Using simulations
    • Students come with different levels of experience; simulations can help even the playing field.
  • Mentoring undergraduate students
    • Mentoring from older/more experienced students is useful for both parties. Older students may need training on how to most effectively mentor undergraduate students.

Discipline-Specific Suggestions

  • History
    • Problem: Understanding history, causation, and context.
    • Project: Ask students to prepare food from before 1500 and share with the class.
  •  Communication
    • Project: Use case studies of interpersonal conflict; have students serve as consultants for one another.
  • Chemical Engineering
    • Problem: Students are overwhelmed with new topics (e.g. fluid flow/heat transfer).
    • Project: Discuss what types of heat transfer exist to get students interested in the topic and then have students apply their knowledge.
  • Child and Family Studies
    • Problem: Recognizing differences between parenting children vs. managing a classroom of children.
  • Retail and Tourism
    • Project: Before their junior internships, students complete volunteer projects. These projects and the internships help them understand the reality of retail jobs and dispels misunderstanding.
  • Veterinary Medicine
    • Problem: Diagnosing.
  • VolsTeach
    • Project: Put students in the field very early in the program. This helps them decide if teaching is what they want to do.

Question: In your disciplines/professions, how do you collaborate? How could you collaborate better?

Important Take-Aways

  • Expose students to collaboration early in their university careers.
  • Group work is very important.
  • Useful skills: negotiation, communication, information dissemination, weighing the value of a message.
  • Is the ease of emailing/texting a deterrent to good interpersonal collaboration?
  • Reflection is critical.
  • Clear communication is key to success in all professions.
  • It is important to recognize diversity issues of all types, including age, generational differences, and past experiences.

General Suggestions

  • Organizing group work
    • Have students complete projects with an appointed group leader. This is one of the most successful exercises for teaching students to work through team conflict.
    • Enable students to ‘figure it out on their own’; if they realize you won’t help them, they’ll figure it out.
    • Let students choose their own groups, decide what their project topic will be, and determine who will be responsible for each part.
  • Grading group work options
    • Have students grade themselves and their group members.
    • Assign individual grades, even though work was completed in groups.
  • Encouraging accountability in group work
    • Peers have trouble holding each other accountable.
    • Use team charters/contracts to define and enforce accountability.
    • Provide a check-in process to determine how the group is functioning
  • Incorporating professional development into courses
    • Hold seminars focused on collaboration to prepare resumes, develop leadership skills, etc.
    • Teach workplace skills like how to write emails, how to address supervisors, and how to respond to task requests.

Discipline-Specific Suggestions

  • Communication
    • Collaboration helps us “see with a different eye”; we learn how to manage conflict effectively and how to understand better.
  • Child and Family Studies
    • We collaborate through labs for undergraduate research; how can we get students interested/involved in projects earlier?
  • Engineering
    • We always collaborate because it is inefficient to do work alone. Students complete homework together, with roles that are assigned and rotated.
  • Facilities/Recycling
    • We collaborate by reaching out to people who have knowledge to mentor students in internships.
  • History
    • We collaborate by sharing materials with colleagues.
  • Law
    • We facilitate collaboration between older and younger lawyers. This helps students through mental shift of seeing clients as “bosses” and of being problem solvers instead of advertisers.
  • Peace Corps
    • We collaborate by connecting with key stakeholders, attending everything, and just being with people
  • Veterinary Medicine/Pathology
    • We collaborate when determining why an animal died. We decide what information needs to be shared with whom; research can be done on a large or small scale.

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