Monday, July 20, 2009

The Study

This study proposes to compare the acquisition of reasoning and creative thinking skills in two groups of students exposed to different pedagogical approaches—one, a constructivist, problem-based, inquiry learning approach; the other, a conventional learning environment. Rather than relying on the results of performance on external tests that may not be comparable from year to year, this study proposes to use widely accepted standardized instruments—The Arlin Test of Formal Reasoning and the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking— to determine the acquisition of reasoning and creative abilities.

Research Questions

Does the treatment group perform differently than the control group on the Torrance Tests of Creativity?

Does the treatment group of students perform differently than the control group on the Arlin Test of Formal Reasoning?

Purpose of Study

While considerable qualitative research supports a change in the design of schools to a constructivist model of learning, there has been little research that conclusively demonstrates that constructivist, problem-based approaches are substantially superior to conventional pedagogical approaches for developing and improving student ability to solve problems and work creatively. The problem is not that quantitative research is the only acceptable indicator of quality research (notwithstanding the hegemony of structural-scientific thinking), but that the policy makers that control public education have to be persuaded to change an unwieldy beast that is the product of a century of pedagogical evolution. Bureacracies are very resistant to change and, like all organisms, are committed to nothing so much as self preservation.

The situation is further complicated by jurisdictions like Alberta that consistently rank above or very close to the top of the world in respected international assessments (e.g. the PISA program) despite a public education system that is largely conventional. [Note: The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)--program provides comparative information on student literacy in the content areas of reading, Math, and science from 40 OECD countries].

So the first question that emerges from a desire to compare conventional schooling to a different pedagogical approach with an eye to adopting it is...if it ain't broke, why fix it?

Regardless of the eloquence that they bring with the desire for change, innovators soon find out that the hidebound bureacrats that control education are more easily persuaded by numbers than words.

Research Interest

Conventional schooling as we know it today was designed for the efficient production of basic knowledge and skills needed for the factories of the 19th and 20th centuries. But the world has changed and as material resources dwindle and the unintended consequences of the industrial revolution threaten on a global scale, citizens must not only have an extensive store of knowledge, but also must know how to keep that knowledge current and apply it to solve novel problems. Unlike the traditional, objectivist approach to teaching that focuses on identifying the elements that the learner must know, the new, constructivist approach emphasizes the importance of learning in context. That is, it is no longer enough for learners to acquire concepts in isolation; knowledge which often remains inert. Instead, learners must develop and continually modify their understanding of the world as they interact with other learners to solve realistic problems situated in meaningful tasks. This modern view of the workplace has compelled many educators to rethink the ways in which students are prepared.

For many educators, problem-based learning (PBL) represents a particularly useful example of instruction that is consistent with constructivist learning principles. Problem-based learning is an instructional method in which students learn through facilitated problem solving. In PBL, students learn by focusing on a complex problem that does not have a single correct answer, and they work together in collaborative teams to identify what needs to be learned in order to solve the problem.

In theory, learning in PBL environments not only promotes more effective knowledge construction, but results in better learning transfer over time.