June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
Educational Research and Methods
This theory paper introduces a theoretical framework and multi-modal research methodology to the educational research and methods community that will aid in studying technology-mediated problem solving in situated environments. While there continues to be a push for engineering educators to teach skills that enable graduates to successfully engage with the complex, interconnected problems facing today's society, current research strategies tend to be adapted to highly structured forms of problem solving. It is essential that our research methods used to study and inform teaching practices are themselves informed by a deep understanding of the complexity involved in the problem solving process.
Problem solving skills make up a significant component of how learners conceive of engineering and how they conceive of themselves as engineers. Existing research frameworks and methodologies tend to cast engineering problems either as highly structured and coupled with a cognitive model of problem solving (e.g. computational thinking, information processing models), or more recently as complex systems requiring understanding of interactions between social, technical, ethical, and political factors. While both of these viewpoints provide valuable insight, by situating the problem solver as subject and the problem as object, they each occlude the process through which the problem itself shapes the problem solver, especially in future settings with similar context. This blind spot becomes even more troubling in light of the ever-increasing presence of technology in engineering environments.
Recognizing this increasing ubiquity of technology, and that the role of technology use in engineering education remains under-theorized (Johri and Olds 2011), it is critical that we understand how technology mediated problem solving affects learner's development of problem solving skills, and their perception of what problem solving entails. While work has been done to understand how technology can shape educational practices, research protocols and analysis techniques for studying learner-technology interaction remains lacking.
Methods for studying problem solving as both a cognitive process and a social process have been well established in the literature. Recognizing the gap outlined above between these two views, in this paper we move towards a more holistic view by building a theoretical framework which views engineering problem solving as a dialectic relationship between both cognitive and social processes in which technology mediates both dimensions simultaneously. Informed by this framework, we propose an analysis technique consisting of verbal protocol analysis and critical discourse analysis applied to multi-modal data (e.g. participant video, screen-recording, interviews). Using an example application of this framework and methodology, we demonstrates how a more holistic view of problem solving can lead to deeper understanding of the problem solving process which in turn can inform strategies for constructing learning environments and activities that encourage development of the skills needed to solve today's complex problems.
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