Higher Education

, Volume 74, Issue 5, pp 877–896 | Cite as

Dynamics of undergraduate student generic problem-solving skills captured by a campus-wide study

  • Andis KlegerisEmail author
  • Stephanie Barclay McKeown
  • Heather Hurren
  • Lindsay Joy Spielman
  • Maegan Stuart
  • Manpreet Bahniwal


The ability to effectively problem solve is a highly valued competency expected of university graduates, independent of their area of study. Evaluation of problem-solving skill (PSS) development is hindered by a shortage of available tools for monitoring student progress and by lack of defined instructional strategies for development of these skills. Our research is aimed at addressing these problems. We have developed an evaluation tool, which we applied to study the dynamics of undergraduate student PSS. We tested first- and upper-year students from 26 different courses (total enrollment of 2229 students). Overall improvement of PSS was detected for the first-year students over their first term of study. There were no significant differences between the PSS of first- and upper-year students, and no improvement was detected over a single term by measuring PSS in upper-year students. Only three courses were effective at facilitating PSS. Our data indicate that most of the standard lecture approaches do not develop undergraduate student PSS and that universities and individual instructors must take active steps to advance this critical skill set in university students.


Assessment Campus-wide study Generic problem-solving skills Student competencies Problem-solving test University students 



Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development


Problem-based learning


Problem-solving skills


Programme for International Student Assessment


Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies



We would like to thank the University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus, BC, Canada for providing us with funding to carry out this research. We would also like to thank the course instructors who allowed us to perform our study in their classrooms, as well as all the students who participated in our research.

Compliance with ethical standards

Study protocols were approved by the Human Research Ethics Board of our university, and students willing to participate in the study voluntarily signed an appropriate consent form. The research team ensured that each student’s consent and research data were hidden from the course instructors, who were offered access to data summaries only.

Supplementary material

10734_2016_82_MOESM1_ESM.docx (18 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 18 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of British Columbia Okanagan CampusKelownaCanada
  2. 2.Planning and Institutional ResearchUniversity of British Columbia Okanagan CampusKelownaCanada
  3. 3.Centre for Teaching and LearningUniversity of British Columbia Okanagan CampusKelownaCanada

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