Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Can Students Identify the Relevant Information to Solve a Problem?

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Can Students Identify the Relevant Information to Solve a Problem?

Article excerpt

Introduction

Regardless of their occupation, people need to handle different types of problems every day. Real-life problems are usually very complex and cannot be solved in a routine manner. Therefore, knowing how to solve these unusual problems has become an essential skill for the 21st century (Greiff et al., 2014a; Griffin, McGaw, & Care, 2012; Neubert, Mainert, Kretzschmar, & Greiff, 2015). Problem solving is not only a skill to deal with real-life situations, but also plays an important role in many learning environments, such as problem-based learning (PBL) (Merritt, Lee, Rillero, & Kinach, 2017).

Problem solving is the process of finding a method to achieve a goal from an initial state. Depending on the domain, the initial state, goal, and means can be very different. Therefore, domain expertise usually plays a dominant role in an individual's problem-solving performance, as described by Chi and Glaser (1983). Well-educated adults may exhibit equally good domain-general problem-solving strategies. However, young students clearly have different levels of competence in solving complex domain-general problems (Findings, 2014), which has fostered a great demand for teaching domain-general problem-solving skills to these students (Greiff et al., 2014a).

In addition, a domain-general problem-solving ability is essential for PBL, which is an effective method for enhancing deep learning (Dolmans, Loyens, Marcq, & Gijbels, 2015). In PBL, students are expected to learn by solving open-ended problems. Open-ended questions are usually complex and poorly structured; therefore, students should have strong self-regulation abilities to be successful in this type of learning. In other words, it is not appropriate to assume that every student is well prepared for PBL. Thus, PBL often involves extensive tutor facilitation, which some educators find difficult and frustrating (Wood, 2003). When facilitation is absent or insufficient, PBL is sometimes found to be less effective than traditional lecture learning (Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark, 2006). Recently, many big cities in China, such as Beijing and Shanghai, have developed a strong trend of adopting PBL in elementary schools. However, as the normal size of a Chinese elementary school class is 40 students, it is not possible for a teacher to help all students efficiently. Therefore, it is even more important to assess students' abilities in conducting PBL-related activities in China to enable teachers to have a better sense of which of their students may need the most help.

Our main objective in problem-solving assessment is to check whether students are ready for PBL; thus, we need an assessment tool fit for this purpose. Some tools have been developed for domain-general problem-solving assessment. Among these tools, MicroDYN and MicroFIN (Schweizer, Wustenberg, & Greiff, 2013) are the best established. When using these tools, students are required to investigate the complex dependencies of several variables within a dynamically changing situation. Indeed, these tools can be used to reliably assess problem-solving abilities by describing problem situations with linear structural equations and finite state automata.

However, PBL also requires other dimensions of problem-solving ability. Previous studies have shown that students often failed in PBL because of its high cognitive load (Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark, 2006; Sweller, 1988; Tuovinen & Sweller, 1999). One important of cognitive load-related factor is reading literacy. PBL usually involves a great deal of information searching and selection, which requires students to be able to decide what they need to know to resolve their problem (Holliday, 2006). In this context, students need to do much more discontinuous reading than continuous reading. However, Chinese students exhibit worse performance in discontinuous reading than students from other countries according to the report from the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 2010). …

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