Collaborative Problem Solving: PISA 2015

Note on 17/11/2013: I have reordered this blog posting slightly since first published.

“Collaborative problem solving is not a traditional domain, in that it is not explicitly taught as a school subject, rather embedded as a practice in the classroom” (PISA 2015 Draft Collaborative Problem Solving Framework p.27).

I spent some time recently reading mid-term reports for students in the school I teach in. I am sure Principals and Deputy-principals up and down the country are doing the same about now, as schools prepare for Parent-Teacher meetings for their State-examination classes.

I was struck once again by how forcibly the nature of the assessment drives the teaching.

The nature of the assessment culture in Ireland is changing particularly at Junior Cycle level.

We teachers need to give more thought to what is coming down the tracks and read some research so that we can develop assessment practices that are a natural fit with the subjects we teach.

The subject History, I could see as a great area of collaborative critical thinking – Parnell, the author of his own downfallNagasaki– well, the Bomb ended the war…

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has published a document – PISA 2015 Draft Collaborative Problem Solving Framework (here PDF 89 pages).

The document describes the collaborative  problem solving competency as…. the capacity of an individual to effectively engage in a process whereby two or more agents attempt to solve a problem by sharing the understanding and effort required to come to a solution and pooling their knowledge, skills and efforts to reach that solution (p.6 my emphasis).

In my view, that is some challenge in itself to develop as an assessment task!

Interestingly, the word agent is defined as … either a human or a computer-simulated participant. I like this – I can see an opportunity for a gaming type approach to some problem solving tasks (not my area, but the literature looks sound).

There are three competencies involved in collaborative  problem solving

1) Establishing and maintaining shared understanding
2) Taking appropriate action to solve the problem
3) Establishing and maintaining group organisation

PISA have decided that in 2015, the assessment of these competencies will be computer mediated … It has therefore been decided to place each individual student in collaborative problem solving situations, where the team member(s) with whom the student has to collaborate is fully controlled. This is achieved by programming computer agents (p.17).

Now you may dip in and out of the document yourself but anyone who thinks about this area will see that it is highly complex, especially when you factor in concepts of collaboration within different cultures.

Students,I think will have less difficulty with some of the scenarios envisioned here, than some of their teachers.

Many play complex games on their computer but play also “with” many “strangers” as they engage in their virtual worlds. Perhaps the practices are embedded at home but not in school? Lots of learning and relearning required!

Noel Wade shared with me this video-link as I was preparing the blog. I was tweeting out pieces from the PISA document…..

Image: Return to Zero is a funny comic strip for engineers, with lab humor, odd situations, and exploding circuits that of course makes a sport out of solving the trickiest of engineering problems.


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