Problems in Solving Problems - What is New - Are We Looking at the Correct Place?

AutorRonit Ben-Bassat Levy
Cargo del AutorUniversity of Rey Juan Carlos

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1 Introduction

The difficulties that students face while trying to solve problems are well known in the field of CSE. There is a very wide range of research presented in the literature. During the past 30 years, researchers have dealt with the problem by studying it and by developing different types of solutions to these difficulties. Polya [1] dealt with the problem, but it was not in the field of CS [2]. I found articles dealing with this problem or a variation of it even in 2009 [3]. These last studies deal with an advanced appearance of problem solving such as: studying from errors [4], having problems in interleaving usage of templates [3], etc. But these problems are connected to the ability of students to solve problems; the CSE researchers relate their articles to the solving-problem aspect by citing previous studies. In spite of all the research and the knowledge gained as a result of three decades of studying, many students suffer from these difficulties. The research on problem-solving focused on students and on the pedagogy that should be used, and the importance of the role of teachers, but the studies usually involved CSE investigators. The majority of the instructors at the universities are not from the field of CSE but from the field of CS. I believe that this is the main problem.

In this article, I describe a design of a new approach study that involves instructors from a CS department at a university and their students. I found only two studies that was conducted by a CS researcher and taught by her ([5, 6]), but she taught at the Air-Force academic school, where all students have to study CS. All other studies, at least according to their description, were taught by CSE members. I intend to ask the instructors to use a pedagogical tool to help their

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students deal with the problem-solving process, and I am going to investigate, both instructors and students. The investigations would be in the dimension of the attitudes towards using the tool by both teachers and students and the dimension of evaluation the improvement of the abilities of students to solving-problems.

The tool was developed according to well known methods and processes of solving-problems ([1, 7]), and according to the Learning and Teaching Styles [8]. In addition, I adapted the Blooms’ taxonomy [9] to CS and related the tool to this taxonomy.

Before presenting the tool and the design process, some related studies will be reviewed and then used to motivate the new approach. Following this, an overview of the tool and design process will be given. Section 2 is a short literature review on problem-solving. Section 3 describes the Learning Styles and a short literature review on this subject. Section 4 describes the tool. The research questions and the design of the study are given in Section 5.

2 The Problem of Problem-Solving

Solving a problem is a process that each of our students should be able to handle, but it appears to be that the students have difficulties to accomplish this process.

2. 1 Literature Review

Solving-problems is one of the most researched subjects in the area of CSE. For the last three decades researchers have described the problem through case studies, they have tried and found reasons for students having these difficulties, they have developed methods and tools for teachers and students that deal with problem-solving, etc… ([1, 10, 11]). Many of these studies show improvement of the students’ skills in solving-problems and in their attitudes to their own abilities in subject of learning.

Hinsley [12] found that competent problem solvers could readily categorize algebra word problems with a high degree of inter-subject agreement. In related research, [13] found that expert physicists, when asked to categorize a series of physics problems, tended to group them on the basis of solution mode. Problems soluble by a basic principle of physics such as conservation of energy tended to be placed in the same category. In contrast, novices preferred to group problems according to surface structures such as the inclusion of shared objects in the problem statement. This means that there is a difference between how experts and novices solve problems, and when designing a tool, the developers should give answers to these differences.

Sweller [11] showed that solving-problem process is an acquired skill, but it is not done by solving many problems, on the contrary, it should be made by studying a process of how to do that (p. 262). Similar approach is given by (Larkin, McDermott, Simon, Simon, (1980), as cited in [14]). In my study I intend to use a general methodology to solve-problems, the tool is very general and can be adopted to different subject in CS as well as in other disciplines (Scientific and non Scientific). The instructors will be advices on how to use it in class so that their students could use it appropriately while solving problems in CS.

In 2003, [15] dealt with solving-problems too. They developed a system that should improve the novice programming students’ abilities to learn. They state that the students face several challenges, among them (a) deficiencies in problem solving strategies and tactical knowledge; (b) misconceptions about syntax, semantics, and pragmatics of language constructs; and (c) ineffective pedagogy of programming instruction. The last challenge is very important since, in 2003 after three decades of studies, researchers describe an ineffective

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pedagogy situation. This situation is very delicate since the instructors are usually professors at a university level that no one has doubts on their abilities or their expertise in the subject matter they teach. But the fact is that these professors do not know about the studies and the research being done in the field of CSE since they are not a part of the community of CSE. Moreover, short talks I had with the CS instructors, revealed that most of them did not have a course on pedagogy of CS. It appears to be that in order to teach at the university the instructors are not required to study how to teach. Linn and Clancy [14] discuss how a program design and development is taught; they say that "Instruction tends to emphasize the product of the design and development process, but not the process itself." (p. 125)

In spite of these efforts the problem still exits. Solving-problems may change its name and appearance but it is a very live subject. For example, [3] found students having difficulties in composition of designed patterns in an interleaved way when they try to design a computer program. The researcher developed a scaffolding instruction to address this problem. This is connected to the problem-solving process, since the students have to understand the problem, in order to be able to be able to make the connection with the appropriate pattern that will solve it. The problem increases when the students have to interleave more than one pattern in order to solve a problem (p.109). But, this is still a matter of solving a problem. This is a study from 2009, which indicates the problem of solving-problems still exists.

3 The Learning and Teaching Styles

Learning and Teaching Styles (LTS) is not a new subject. The first to explicitly deal and investigate this subject were [8]. This subject was developed and studied since then and the literature provides many versions and dimensions of the learning styles. [16] developed The Index of the Learning Styles (ILS) which is a tool to assess performances on the four dimension of the four-dimensional learning styles model. This is a web-based software that was used many times, among them, in CSE, when [17] used the results of the tool to understand how different types of conceptual models and cognitive learning styles influence novice programmers when learning recursion.

Felder and Silverman [8] open their article on LTS with this statement: "‘Professors confronted by low test grades, unresponsive or hostile classes, poor attendance and dropouts, know that something is wrong.’ The authors explain what has happened and how to make it right. " ([8], p. 674)

The learning process is an educational situation which involves reception and processing of information. Each student in his learning process, possesses his way of getting information, organizes it, processes it, and progress towards understanding. These ways are different among different students and even the same student has different ways in different courses or different times. These ways are defined by the authors as Learning Styles (LS). The same works for instructors and teachers who have their own ways of transmitting information, organizing it, activating the students, and possessing perspectives on the information. These ways are named by the authors as Teaching Styles (TS). As for the students, different instructors have different ways of teaching, and even the same instructor does not use all the time the same way but he changes it according to the situation. The researchers describe five different LS and TS. But they say that this creates "25= 32 LS in the proposed conceptual framework (for...

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