MyNotes - Ill-structured Problem Solving, Wikis, and Skype

A tough read, the research article still provided some valuable insights into the nature of using wikis with problem-based learning--solving ill-structured problems at a distance.
JOLT - Journal of Online Learning and Teaching
    • MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching
      • Vol. 6, No. 4, December 2010
        • Scaffolding Wiki-Based, Ill-Structured Problem Solving in an Online Environment
          • Yun-Jo An Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology Texas A& M University-Texarkana Texarkana , TX USA
            • Educators and researchers have increasingly emphasized the importance of developing students' ability to solve ill-structured problems (e.g., Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1990, 1993; Jonassen, 1999; Reigeluth, 1999).
              • Like most problems one encounters in everyday life, ill-structured problems are complex, ill-defined, and open-ended. They have many alternative solutions and multiple solution paths, and the actions needed to solve them are not readily apparent (Chi & Glaser, 1985; Ge & Land, 2004; Jonassen, 1997; Sinnott, 1989; Voss & Post, 1988). Thus, ill-structured problems are much more difficult to solve than well-structured problems (Jonassen, 1997; Koschman et al., 1996) and demand higher cognitive and metacognitive abilities (Ge & Land, 2004). Novices tend to interpret complex problems in simplified ways, overlooking critical factors, demonstrating difficulty identifying relevant information, and often failing to consider alternative solutions or ideas (Powell & Willemain, 2007; Voss & Post, 1988).
                • This paper focuses on four different types of scaffolds designed and implemented to support online graduate students' wiki-based collaborative learning and ill-structured problem solving processes.
                  • Scaffolding refers to support provided by a teacher, an expert, a more capable peer, or other resource that enables an individual to perform tasks that he or she cannot perform independently (Vygotsky, 1978; Wood et al., 1976). C. M. Reigeluth clarifies the concept of scaffolding by distinguishing it from support for learning. Defining scaffolding as support for performing, he argues that if there is no performance that it supports, then it is not scaffolding (personal communication, July 13, 2010). Scaffolds can take various forms, including question prompts, expert modeling, expert advice, learner guides, resources, and tools. Hannafin et al. (1999) identify four types of scaffolding: conceptual, metacognitive, procedural, and strategic. First, conceptual scaffolding guides learners regarding what to consider and helps them reason through complex problems. It is provided when the problem is defined. Second, metacognitive scaffolding provides guidance on how to think during learning. It supports planning, monitoring, and evaluation. Third, procedural scaffolding emphasizes how to utilize resources and tools. Finally, strategic scaffolding provides guidance on how to approach learning tasks or problems. Its emphasis is on alternative approaches. Further, Saye and Brush (2002) distinguish between hard scaffolds and soft scaffolds. Hard scaffolds refer to "static supports that can be anticipated and planned in advance based on typical student difficulties with a task" (p. 81). In contrast, soft scaffolds provide dynamic and spontaneous support based on learner responses.
                    • Ge and Land (2003) investigated the effects of question prompts in scaffolding students' problem solving processes in an ill-structured task. They found that
                      • students working with question prompts performed better than the other groups in problem representation, making justifications, monitoring, and evaluation.
                        • Ge and Land (2004) presented a conceptual framework for scaffolding ill-structured problem solving processes using question prompts and peer interactions. They first identified major processes for ill-structured problem solving: (a) problem representation, (b) generating and selecting solutions, (c) making justifications, and (d) monitoring and evaluation. Then, they analyzed each of the problem solving processes with regard to its cognitive and metacognitive requirements and provided types of question prompts and peer interactions for supporting different processes of ill-structured problem solving. Based on various scaffolding models, Belland and his colleagues (2008) presented guidelines for developing computer-based scaffolds to help middle school students create evidence-based arguments.
                          • peer interactions did not have significant effects on ill-structured problem solving and suggested that peer interactions must be guided with various strategies, including question prompts, in order to maximize benefits, since learners may interact with each other at a very basic level without appropriate guidance.
                            • A wiki, one of the Web 2.0 tools, is a website that allows anyone with a web browser and Internet access to easily create and edit web pages from any location. Its inherent simplicity and flexibility enable nontechnical users to easily access the site, fostering participation through its democratic use (EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2005). Also, due to their openness, wikis are generally in a constant state of flux, and their content is fluid (Lamb, 2004; Wheeler, Yeomans & Wheeler, 2008). Unlike blogs, wikis are organized by content or topics of interests rather than chronology and are developed by multiple contributors instead of a single writer (Engstrom & Jewett, 2005; Ferris & Wilder, 2006). Thus, wikis are often used for collaborative content creation or knowledge building as well as knowledge management and sharing (Cress & Kimmerle, 2008; Engstrom & Jewett, 2005), even though they can also be used for personal purposes.
                              • Specifically, they "enable students to collaboratively generate, mix, edit and synthesize subject-specific knowledge within a shared and openly accessible digital space" (Wheeler, Yeomans & Wheeler, 2008, p. 989). Although collaborative writing is perhaps the most common application of wikis (Ferris & Wilder, 2006; Lamb, 2004), they can also support a wide variety of online learning activities that might be impossible in a typical classroom environment. Wikis are commonly used for brainstorming, knowledge construction, project planning, problem solving, resource sharing, case libraries, assignment submission, presentations, and community building. Since wikis can incorporate multimedia objects, such as pictures and videos, they can also be used as a tool to create e-portfolios, digital stories, or other multimedia presentations (EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2005; Engstrom & Jewett, 2005; Ferris & Wilder, 2006; Lamb, 2004; Parker & Chao, 2007).
                                • The potential of wikis to foster collaborative learning can be undermined if teachers impose a lot of control over the process (Lamb, 2004; Richardson, 2010).
                                  • In most studies, students used wikis to collaboratively write summaries of assigned readings, project reports, or a glossary of key concepts. However, the researcher could not find any research studies that examined the use of wikis in the ill-structured problem solving context.
                                    • The group project required the students to collaboratively solve an ill-structured, instructional design problem that involved developing wiki-based online guidelines for a selected target audience (e.g., K-12 teachers, university faculty, etc.) on the use of a specific Web 2.0 tool (e.g., blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc.) in support of learner-centered instruction. It was emphasized that the wiki pages should be developed as cohesive work that shows evidence of collaboration.
                                      • Conceptual. The researcher developed and provided a four-page Project Specification that explained the project requirements, processes, deliverables, due dates, and evaluation criteria. Conceptual scaffolds (e.g., suggested structure, required components, and evaluation criteria) were embedded in the Project Specification. Conceptual scaffolding was also provided through the "Resources and Tips" page in Blackboard where the instructor posted various resources, suggestions, and tips. In addition, a social bookmarking activity was designed to provide conceptual scaffolding. The activity required the students to conduct a literature review and to annotate, tag, and save a minimum of 20 bookmarks related to their selected topic using Delicious, one of the most popular social bookmarking services. The instructor reviewed individual students' Delicious pages and provided feedback on their bookmarks.
                                        • Metacognitive.
                                          • The Progress Reports were designed to help the student groups monitor their collaborative problem solving processes, assess what they had done, and make critical group decisions accordingly. Their Progress Reports, which students submitted twice during the problem solving process, included their project title, team name, date, overall project status, project risks and issues, evaluation and lessons learned, and next steps and timeline. The instructor provided feedback on the groups' Project Plans and Progress Reports.
                                            • Procedural. To help the students learn how to use tools required for the group project, including a wiki and a social bookmarking site, the instructor provided YouTube videos (Wikis in Plain English: ; Social Bookmarking in Plain English: ) and related articles. She also provided step-by-step instructions for using tools to those who needed additional help.
                                              • Strategic. Strategic scaffolds were provided mainly through instructor suggestions, tips, and feedback on the groups' Project Plans and Progress Reports.
                                                • The data from both the second and final surveys revealed that wikis were not very effective as a communication tool in the problem solving process. Although most students believed that wikis were effective for collaborative writing and editing, they reported that they still had to use synchronous communication tools such as Skype, text or phone call to discuss the project issues and make decisions. One of the groups whose team members never met in person due to schedule conflicts used Skype extensively and reported that one of the key factors to their success was the use of Skype.
                                                  • the use of wikis was not necessary and that they did not use theirs effectively. It was observed that they did not use their wiki much for writing and editing.
                                                    • They tended to post their content on their wiki page only when it was required for instructor review and feedback.
                                                      • Online instructors should be prepared for students' initial resistance to ill-structured problems. This study suggests that instructors help students understand the learner-centered pedagogy and the ill-structured problem solving process before engaging them in an open, ill-structured learning environment. Once students understand that the problem is supposed to be "ill-structured" and they are going to get support during the problem solving process, they feel safe and are willing to work on the messy problem.
                                                        • Well-designed hard scaffolds can not only support students' problem solving, but also reduce the amount of soft scaffolding online instructors need to provide in an ill-structured problem solving environment. However, as Saye and Brush (2002) noted, "there are limits to gains that may be achieved through hard scaffolds" (p. 93). Student support needs in the ill-structured problem solving process are so complex and unpredictable that it is difficult to successfully support students' problem solving through hard scaffolds alone. Ill-structured problem solving requires dynamic and situational scaffolding from a skilled teacher.
                                                          • soft scaffolding is necessary to effectively support students' ill-structured problem solving. In particular, the findings of this study show that more soft scaffolding is required, especially for conceptual guidance. Despite embedded conceptual scaffolds and additional guidance, some groups had difficulties in finding appropriate resources, synthesizing information from different sources, and developing guidelines. In addition, different groups had different support needs. It is suggested that an instructor carefully monitor each group and provide tailored soft scaffolding to help students reason through complex, ill-structured problems.
                                                            • Solving an ill-structured problem in a group involves a lot of discussions and decision making and requires great interdependence with group members. In online environments, collaborative problem solving is more complicated and challenging. An and Reigeluth (2008) suggest that online instructors provide both synchronous and asynchronous communication media to facilitate students' collaborative problem solving in online environments. Synchronous communication can be more effective and efficient for group decision making while asynchronous communication allows students to work at their convenience and to have more time to think about the content.
                                                              • espite wikis' effectiveness as an online collaboration tool, students need to communicate synchronously when they collaboratively solve an ill-structured problem that requires a lot of discussions and decision making.
                                                                • Those who used Skype reported that synchronous online meetings with team members through Skype enabled them to make major group decisions efficiently and to review and work on their wiki pages together.
                                                                  • While synchronous communication is critical in wiki-based collaborative problem solving, it is worthwhile to note that wikis may not be used effectively when students meet face-to-face frequently.

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