Wednesday, June 13, 2007

STLHE 2007 - Day One The Pre-Conference Workshop - Problem-Based Instruction And Apprenticeship in Learning

This pre-conference workshop was led by Ranga Venkatachary from Simon Fraser University. Two main themes were covered - "Why Teach Problem Solving" and "How To Teach Problem Solving". I was attracted to this workshop because i do teach a course in Logic and Problem Solving to first year Information Technology students.

There was some initial discussion on the distinction between problem-based learning (PBL) and inquiry-based learning (IBL). after some discussion the consensus was that PBL inferred the pursuit of answers while IBL infers the pursuit and result f more questions. It's an interesting distinction that i think I will have to give some more thought to.

A question was posed to the group - "Is knowledge situated in contexts?" Personally I think that it has to be, particularly for adult learners who often bring context with then framed by the past learning and experiences. Or as it was put in the workshop, problem solving ability results from domain (knowledge of discipline) expertise and an astute reading of context.

The next topic was the use of stories in problem solving. Personally I use stories all the time to frame concepts - my own past industry experiences, analogies to everyday life, and so on. I find that using stories in problem solving (the case method maybe) helps provide context - we compare and contrast for setting context. Stories have to have triggers - what makes them useful for problem solving?

We then looked at the characteristics of a problem:
  • The form of information items
  • The organization of items into structures
  • The sequence of items
We then did an activity where we had to slect two images form a pile of pictures - one illustrating a problem, the other the solution to that problem. My two images were of a very sad looking, very wet cat (the problem) and a pod of orcas (the solution). My problem was that you could lead a learner to problem solving but quite often they just go "wet" like that cat - the solution was to get learners to learns from each other like the pod of whales. This was a very good activity that I might add to my toolkit. a word of advice was given - leave experiential learning alone - resist the temptation to intervene or give too many instructions - let the activity happen (much like David Gotshall's minimal rigid structure).

We then moved on to the second theme - "How To Teach Problem Solving". Prior knowledge sets context - have learners pull these individual contexts together. Problems are represented two ways - quantitative and qualitative:
  • Quantitative - procedural knowledge, numerical processing skills
  • Qualitative - images, metaphors, illustrations, personal identities
Use the appropriate problem representation of the problems that needs solving. The University of Maastricht has the "Seven Jumps" a a framework for how to approach problems.

Finally as a recap - knowledge is about associations - problem solving teaches us the "how" and the "why" those associations exist and associations state the potential representation of content (I hope to explore the whole issue of content and who should control it over the next couple of days).

A long, mostly content-based afternoon, but some gems came from it - problem solving is recognized as an essential skill regardless of discipline and approaches need to be presented to learners so that they may formulate their own personalized approach to problem solving.

Again it seems that I am doing a lot of good things with problem solving - particularly as it applies to helping learners develop problem solving approaches of their own.

The main conference starts tomorrow - I plan on attending sessions dealing with Web 2.0 and other collaborative approaches to learning.


Carolyn said...

Awesome post, Ian. It really gives me a window to some of your experiences at STIHL. I love when you go to conferences because you bring so much back. It's like Christmas.

Also, I loved your response to the picture activity. Web cats & orcas. I'll have to remember that one. It really works for me.

Ian H. MacLeod said...

It was a very full and interesting day - what I like about being here is how friendly and collaborative everyone is. Most people are here to learn from each other. I've had some great conversations about learning so far.

One really interesting theme is the number of people that I have met who are in faculty development - providing support and strategies to faculty to improve their ability to teach and facilitate. I really think that CCEDP would go over really well here.