Creative and Collaborative Problem Solving in Technology Education: A Case Study in Primary School Teacher Education

Article excerpt

Many public and private institutions believe that there is a growing need for employees who are able to think creatively and solve a wide range of problems (Grabinger, 1996). On the other hand, several researchers have maintained that many of the skills and competencies needed in working life are seldom obtained at school (e.g., Resnick, 1986). Therefore, competency-based or performance-based approaches to teacher education have been recommended in order to give students a broader perspective and to equip them to teach technology (Custer, 1994; Sinn, 1996; Whitty & Willmott, 1991). In particular, it has been argued that creative problem solving is an integral part of technology education, in contrast to an instruction-following method of technology education, reproducing artifacts, and teacher-dominated work (De Luca, 1993; Sellwood, 1991; Williams & Williams, 1997). Wu, Custer, and Dyrenfurth (1996) suggested even more forcefully that (creative) problem solving should be a core content area and method of teaching technology. These approaches particularly seem to fit technology-oriented modules in teacher education.

In this article, the Creative Technology Education Project (CTEP) is presented, and phases of problem-solving processes in which the participating primary school student teachers generate alternatives and evaluate ideas are analyzed. The aims of this project were to introduce technology education goals and contents to these students, as well as to offer tools for learning and teaching technology, and to facilitate personal growth. One purpose of the project was to encourage the students to become familiar with technology and problem-solving processes and to develop especially creative skills and abilities (e.g., ideation and the evaluation of ideas). For those purposes, a model was introduced, named the Overall Mapping of a Problem Situation (OMPS). This model helps students in ideation (the generation of alternative solutions) and evaluation of ideas when working on project teams. This model was practiced with concrete technology education projects. Thus, the project focus was on collaborative problem solving, with special emphasis on ideation and the positive evaluation of ideas.

Creative and Collaborative Problem Solving

Different ways to emphasize creative problem solving in small groups have been suggested (e.g., Dooley, 1997; Grabinger, 1996; Hill, 1999). A common feature of these approaches is to place students in the midst of a realistic, illdefined, complex, and meaningful problem with no obvious or correct solution. Students work in teams, collaborate, and act as professionals, confronting problems as they occur-with no absolute boundaries. Although they get insufficient information, the students must settle on the best possible solution by a given date. This type of multistaged process is characteristic of effective and creative problem solving. These stages may include (a) formulating the problem, (b) recognition of facts related to the problem, (c) goal setting, (d) ideation or generating alternatives, (e) the evaluation of ideas, (f) choosing the solution and, (g) testing and evaluating (De Luca, 1993; Fisher, 1990; Welch & Lim, 2000). The process is nonlinear and follows no particular rules because rational approaches miss the entire point of creative problem solving.

In accordance with Hennessy and Murphy (1999), the term collaboration is used in this article to describe social interaction within a group or a team, when students actively talk and share their cognitive resources, working together to produce a single outcome. They are also supposed to establish joint goals and referents, making joint decisions, solving emerging problems, constructing and modifying solutions, and evaluating the outcomes through dialogue and action. Collaboration requires students to actively communicate (e.g., negotiate or debate) and work together (e.g., set goals, plan, generate alternatives) with the aim of producing a single outcome (e. …