Join us in unleashing the agency and purpose of every learner with stories about what’s working. Educators in disciplines ranging from anthropology and sociology, to public policy and social innovation expose their students to the vast and complex world of social change through solutions journalism.
Click here to find and create teaching resources that will challenge your students to think critically and creatively about solutions to social and environmental problems. We encourage the reuse and dissemination of the teaching resources on our website for educational purposes and following this Creative Commons license.
At first some of the students were cynical. They thought these were feel good stories. But as they read the collections, they realized they weren’t. They became much more engaged with the course, making connections between the stories and their own lives.”
Marcy O'Neil thought she might use a few solutions journalism stories in her course on the Anthropology of Social Movements, but when she discovered the diversity of stories and resources on SolutionsU, she realized she could do much more.
She created seven story collections with study questions on topics ranging from environmental movements to political activism, as well as two assignments, and an honors project.
Her customized course materials not only address specific course learning objectives, they also inspire students with the knowledge of what is possible in the world of social change.
For example, after they read about solutions to food waste, several of her students approached the cafeteria about portion size. And after they read the story collection on labor movements, another group visited a local apple orchard to explore the labor conditions there.
“The stories take my students out of the realm of the theoretical,” she says, “and into thinking about how these issues play out in the real world. It shows them how important it is to act.”
When I think about what makes a good piece of journalism, it’s really aligned well with what makes a good case study for education: it tells the story and gives it meaning through context. You might call that the ‘sense-making’ aspect of the story.”
Each spring at NYU Stern, the entire freshmen class of nearly 600 students takes “Business and its Publics,” the first course in the social impact curriculum. Midway through the course, the students identify a pressing social problem to research and analyze.
In 2017, Robert Lyon added the Solutions Story Tracker to the syllabus, giving the students a new tool to help them do this. “We got the best variety of cases we have ever seen,” says Robert. “It was a differentiator in the quality of the papers. Students found topics using the Solutions Story Tracker that they wouldn’t have otherwise known about.”
Robert is integrating SolutionsU into another course this spring for a small group of freshmen who will research and develop a social venture.
SolutionsU “is like lights on a runway," he says. “It guides students in, and helps them figure out where they are going to land.”
When students get to apply their learning to issues they care about, they are much more invested in the learning process…Students gain autonomy over their own learning when they can choose the content focus of an assignment. SolutionsU makes this possible.”
Judit Torok has been integrating solutions journalism into her ethics and critical thinking classes every semester since 2016. Solutions journalism, she says, is how her students apply the theories they study in class to the real world.
When Judit first learned about solutions journalism, there were only a few hundred stories on Solutions Story Tracker, and no resources specifically for higher education. With SolutionsU, she says, that has changed.
This semester, her students will “Discover” stories by topic or success factor, and read collections of stories curated by theme. She says this makes for a much richer, interactive experience.
The volume of stories (2,500 +) on SolutionsU also increases the opportunity for meaningful assignments, including the possibility of finding stories on local or regional issues.
These stories encourage students to become involved in their communities, she says. "All faculty should strive to cultivate empathy in their students."
Exposing students to stories about solutions increases their knowledge of social challenges, provides context for understanding public policy research and theories, and inspires hope for future. As one of my students said to me, "I have high hopes now for how I can change the world someday."”
When Betsy Schmidt learned about SolutionsU in 2017, she decided right away that solutions journalism stories would be a good fit for a freshmen seminar on public policy. But she wasn't so sure about more advanced policy courses.
"I was skeptical as to whether journalism stories could be useful in an upper division course," she says. What she discovered, however, was that when her students read a solutions journalism story about a particular social challenge before they read an academic journal article on the same issue, it made the information in the journal article more accessible and meaningful.
"These stories gave the students context to then read the more serious public policy research," she says.
Her students also used SolutionsU to identify an innovative solution to a social problem that they would focus on for the semester, as they learned how to frame persuasive arguments and to address the concerns of those who feared or opposed the solution they favored.
It might seem counterintuitive to search a database of stories about solutions to identify a problem, Betsy says, but by exploring problems through the lens of solutions, students are able to break complex social issues into more manageable pieces.
By reading so many case studies week after week of ordinary people who are coming up with innovative solutions, they came to see themselves as potential agents of change. It changes how they see themselves.”
Scott Sherman has devoted his career to helping people turn their passion for change into action. Scott and the SolutionsU team have developed a course to introduce students to promising strategies for solving social problems. Pairing Scott's award-winning curricula with solutions journalism stories help bring these strategies to life. Scott piloted this course at Claremont McKenna College in spring 2017.
“Academia is really good at training students to critically analyze what is wrong in the world,” but lacks in opportunities to study solutions. This imbalance, he says, leaves students feeling disempowered and depressed.
Scott’s students studied trends in social change, analyzed success factors such as attacking root causes and embracing the power of relationships, and applied their findings to advocate for a local nonprofit organization. In the process, they read over 50 solutions journalism stories via Solutions Story Tracker.
He surveyed his students at the beginning and the end of the semester to see how their attitudes had changed. Students agreed much more strongly after the course that society is making progress against the world's toughest problems (change of +42% in 0-100 score). In terms of knowledge, the results were even more encouraging with a 71 percent increase in students' knowledge of how people are responding to challenges.
The lessons students take away from Solutions U are that it takes multiple perspectives, careful and critical framing, diverse talents and an array of skills to solve social problems. I want our students to engage with these challenges not only with hope but also with the knowledge that we have a lot to learn from each other. Solutions U makes that more accessible.”
Sandra Enos has been using solutions journalism stories in her sociology courses at Bryant University since 2010, when the first official solutions journalism story was published in the New York Times. Over the years, she has hand-picked stories for her students to read. Now, she says, with a searchable database of thousands of stories, the learning opportunities for her students have increased dramatically.
In one of her courses, Sandra "gives" groups of three students $500,000 to start a family foundation and tasks them with establishing a mission and action plan for distributing the funds. The students consult SolutionsU for program ideas and examples of what is working, she says, in much the same way that a real foundation officer would.
"Instead of students bouncing all over Google and finding ill conceived programs, they can find real solutions, and decide much more effectively how they want to spend their money, she says. "And the more we can help students understand that there are many ways to make positive social impact, the more likely they are to be engaged and activated."
A student stopped to tell me that SolutionsU had changed her entire view of what is possible. It was a breakthrough for her to learn that people all around the world are working to solve social problems.”
The ability to articulate a vision for a better future is a critical skill for any leader seeking to change the world, says Jay Friedlander, and in his courses on green and socially responsible business, he works to ensure that his students can do just that.
He also sends his students to the Solutions Story Tracker to identify problems to work on, research best practices and undertake benchmarking analyses.
But the skills his students develop and the knowledge they acquire from studying solutions journalism stories isn't what's most important, he says. Rather, it’s a shift in perspective.
“That is the really important piece of this,” he says, and it’s a piece that is often missing in the college experience.
“So much of academia is about figuring out what is wrong in society, but that’s only half of the story," he says. "This focus leaves our students feeling frustrated, overwhelmed and powerless.”
Solutions, he says, deserve the same level of rigor and analysis in higher education as problems.
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Our issue area taxonomy was adapted from the PCS Taxonomy with definitions by the Foundation Center, which is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 4.0 International License.
Photos are licensed under Attribution Non Commercial 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license / Desaturated from original, and are credited to the following photographers:
Fondriest Environmental, David De Wit / Community Eye Health, Linda Steil / Herald Post, John Amis / UGA College of Ag & Environmental Sciences – OCCS, Andy B, Peter Garnhum, Thomas Hawk, 7ty9, Isriya Paireepairit, David Berger, UnLtd The Foundation For Social Entrepreneurs, Michael Dunne, Burak Kebapci, and Forrest Berkshire / U.S. Army Cadet Command public affairs
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Photo Credit: Sonia Narang
Collections are versatile, powerful and simple to create. From a customized course reader to an action-guide for an upcoming service-learning trip, collections illuminate themes, guide inquiry, and provide context for how people around the world are responding to social challenges.
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