Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Epistemological Beliefs and Ill-Structured Problem-Solving in Solo and Paired Contexts

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Epistemological Beliefs and Ill-Structured Problem-Solving in Solo and Paired Contexts

Article excerpt


A lot of the problems that we are often confronted with, either in our personal lives or in the workplace, are mostly ill-structured, that is, problems for which there is real uncertainty as to how they can best be solved. According to Jonassen (1997), ill-structured problems are unique interpersonal activities and require learners to express personal beliefs; thus, for this reason, cognitive processes alone are insufficient requirements for solving ill-structured problems, because epistemological beliefs affect the ways that learners naturally tend to approach these problems (Oh & Jonassen, 2007; Mandler, 1989; Rogoff, 1990, 2003). We use the term epistemological beliefs to refer to beliefs about the nature of knowledge (certainty of knowledge) and knowing (source of knowledge and justification of knowledge) (Hofer, 2001).

Empirical findings showed that epistemological beliefs affect reasoning about ill-structured problems (Bendixen & Schraw 2001; Schommer & Dunnell, 1997; Sinatra, Southerland, McConaughy, & Demastes, 2003; Schraw, 2001). Research in this area, however, has not addressed closely the role of social context on one's epistemological beliefs. In other words, could it be possible for Bendixen, Schraw, Schommer, and Dunnell to obtain different results about the role of epistemological beliefs on students' reasoning had they asked their students to think about an ill-structured problem, not alone, but with others in a collaborative setting? Do epistemological beliefs behave the same way when one thinks about a problem individually or with others in a group?

Therefore, to remedy for the lack of research on the role of context on epistemological beliefs, in this study we considered socio-cultural aspects of the problem-solving context, and assumed a mixed-method exploratory approach in order to better understand how learners with naive or sophisticated epistemological beliefs think about an ill-structured controversial problem individually or in dyads.

Literature review

Jonassen (1997) distinguished well-structured from ill-structured problems, and articulated differences in cognitive processing engaged by each. Ill-structured problem solving often requires solvers to consider multiple perspectives and apply several criteria while evaluating problems or solutions. The ability to do so depends partially on solvers underlying beliefs about knowledge and how it develops. Since ill-structured problems have commonly divergent or alternative solutions, solvers must develop justification or an argument for supporting the rationale of their selection of a particular solution (Voss & Post, 1988).

For ill-structured problems, the process of justification requires the identification of as many as possible of the various perspectives, supporting arguments and evidence on opposing perspectives, evaluating information, and developing and arguing for the best possible solution (Voss & Means, 1991). According to Churchman (1971), reconciling different interpretations of phenomena based on solvers' goals or perceptions about the nature of the problem is a critical process in developing justification. Thus, the solver's epistemic cognition is an important component in order to develop justification for ill-structured problems (Kitchener, 1983). For developing justification, individuals need epistemic cognition in order to understand that ill-structured problems do not always have a correct solution, and how to choose between alternative solutions. The process of developing justification though for well-structured problems is quite different and focuses mostly on the development of a logical argument in support of the correct solution. Overall, research findings have consistently shown that performance in solving well-structured problems is independent of performance on ill-structured tasks, with ill-structured problems engaging a different set of epistemological beliefs, and thus a different process for developing justification about the problem at hand (Schraw, Dunkle, & Bendixen, 1995; Hong, Jonassen, & McGee, 2003; Jonassen & Kwon, 2001). …

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