The definition and taxonomy presented here are the results from ongoing work on a project funded by Nesta and being completed by UCL IOE and UCL Lab. Comments very welcome.
Collaborative Problem Solving is the process through which a small-medium number of participants (between two and thirty), who share a problem state and a goal, use their social and cognitive knowledge and skills in relation to the problem state to achieve a solution state.
The nature of the problem can vary broadly depending on factors including, but not limited to, complexity, authenticity and outcome. This process can take part in multiple environments and is affected by multiple contextual factors. This definition would include all working together towards a jointly agreed goal hence, we are taking a wider view of collaborative problem solving which encompasses collaborative learning, co-operative learning and co-operative problem solving. However we are excluding peer tutoring like situations.
The following taxonomy was informed by and developed on the basis of a meta-review of meta-analyses and associated recent literature. We have worked together to identify the main important domains and areas across primary, secondary and tertiary education levels that will help classify recent and current approaches and practices as outlined in the informal literature and through blogs, twitter and online resources/databases.
This is a starting point and inevitably minor adjustments may be necessary as the taxonomy is used and applied to different examples. The final result will be a more refined and comprehensive taxonomy.
To limit the landscape in the light of the particular interests of this project we will:
- Only look at practice which takes place with education as the primary goal
- Only look at practice involving groups of below c. 30 participants
- Not look at practice that involves peer-tutoring situations.
Aims of the taxonomy
- To help us describe and classify different types and examples of CPS-developing practice (or whatever it is we define it as). It is important for us to emphasise that we can only look at the design or aims of the CPS-developing practice and not what actually happens (i.e. the application) because this is likely to vary;
- To systematise the CPS field, and to help others understand the breadth and complexity of the CPS field and the range and variety of CPS-developing practice;
- To provide a language that can be used to search for and talk about CPS;
- To enable the identification and classification of practice, particularly clusters of activity, areas where there is less activity, and area where there is evidence base from the literature. This will allow Nesta to identify the areas where it could develop practical work with maximum impact.
The taxonomy we developed (Figure 1) has six non-hierarchical, inter-connected domains:
- Characteristics of the CPS
- Abilities of the participants
- Group Features
- Problem Features
- The contextual factors
Each domain, except for the first, has multiple categories; each category has multiple taxonomic units.
Each domain has multiple categories horizontal, vertical or both. Although it is very hard to make the separation, for the sake of simplifying the complex phenomenon of collaborative problem solving, we thought it might be a good idea to keep certain categories as nominal and keep others (which, we believe, are harder to nominalize) as spectrum. So, horizontal categories represent nominal factors while vertical categories represent spectrum categories. For those spectra, we used high, medium, low taxonomic units and attempted to define them, however we still argue that it is often hard to draw clear borderlines between those taxonomic units in practice.
Many types of technology can support collaborative problem solving and the range is constantly evolving making for a dynamic array of possibilities. Technology can take the form of an interactive table-top, a multi-player game or a discussion forum, for example. Technology can play the role of a tool to support collaboration, the means through which collaborators can communicate, a way of representing the knowledge and skills to be learnt or it can be embedded within the environment. We have chosen not to sub-divide the technology domain in order to recognise the primary importance of the learning process and its participants and context. The technology should be subsidiary.
Characteristics of the collaborative problem solving design
- Unit Scale: the size of the unit of CPS being considered.
- Single one off project/ activity
- Programme of interconnected CPS activities/ projects
- Development of participants’ abilities: this captures the extent to which abilities are explicitly targeted by the CPS
- Not explicitly targeted
- Social space
- Problem space
- Social and Problem space
- How participants’/ whole group’s abilities are developed: (any activity will involve the practice of a wide range of abilities simultaneously) this relates to the way that abilities are explicitly developed/taught separately from the CPS activity
- Adult modelling
- Meta-cognitive/reflective processing (adult led)
- Meta-cognitive/reflective processing (group led)
- Direct instruction (to include coaching)
- Development of group ethos:
- Addressed through team building activities
- Addressed through Group processing
- Not addresses
Abilities of Participants
- Development of abilities related to social space: These abilities will be explicitly identified by the CPS and will aim to enable a person to function effectively while interacting with others (Ability to participate as a member of a group, Ability to place oneself in another’s position, Ability to negotiate, Ability to resolve conflicts, misunderstandings, Ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams, Ability to articulate ideas effectively (oral, written, non-verbal), Ability to listen effectively to decipher meaning.. etc.)
- Development of abilities related to problem space: These abilities will be explicitly identified by the CPS and will aim to enable a person to function effectively while working to bring a problem state closer to an aimed state. (Ability to identify facts, Ability to represent, formulate, and build knowledge, Ability to generate hypotheses, Ability to plan and execute actions, Ability to identify knowledge and skill deficiencies, Ability to reflect on actions.. etc.)
We cannot identify information relating to the process, or specific situational aspects of the practice unless it is described or observed. We can only focus on the specific aims of the CPS and the structural design of the activity/programme.
- Number of Participants: The number of participants forming a group.
- Age: Age distribution of participants forming a group.
- Similar age groups
- Mixed age groups
- Gender: Gender distribution of participants forming a group.
- Same gender groups
- Mixed gender groups
- Synchrony: Action timings of participants with respect to each other.
- Participants are acting
- Participants are acting
- Group roles: the extent to which participant roles are encouraged by activity design.
- Specialized roles allocated by activity designer
- Specialized roles encouraged (e.g. taking responsibility for subtask as in jigsaw working)
- Group roles unplanned (i.e. the group are free to plan for group roles)
- Group familiarity: Participants’ experience of working with each other as part of the group.
- High: Participants work in experienced groups/ bonded groups.
- Medium: Acquaintance groups: participants are familiar and some may have worked together before.
- Low: Participants may never have worked together before.
- Symmetry in the Group: Participants’ proximity in terms of knowledge and skills related to the problem state.
- High: All participants have more or less the same level of knowledge and skills related to the problem state. (i.e. similar attainment group)
- Medium: Most of the participants have more or less the same level of knowledge and skills related to the problem state. (i.e. mixed attainment short distance)
- Low: Some/none of the participants have/has more or less the same level of knowledge and skills related to the problem state. (mixed attainment – substantial distance or distance unknown)
Note: participants may have different but complementary pieces of information regarding the solution of the problem and this might be high or medium or low amount of information. This situation will contribute to the symmetry of the group.
- Subject Domain: Subject domain within the educational context.
- Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths
- Social Sciences
- Literacy, Arts and Humanities
- Cross curricular
- Intended Complexity: Proximity (judged by an expert in the domain and/or the teacher) of the problem state to the aimed state.
- High: Distance between the problem state and the aimed state is big
- Medium: Distance between the problem state and the aimed state is medium
- Low: Distance between the problem state and the aimed state is small
- Authenticity: Proximity of the problem to real-world problem examples.
- High: Participants are dealing with a real-world problem.
- Medium: Participants are dealing with a fabricated problem representing a real-world problem, a simplified version of a real-world problem, or a sub-problem of a real-world problem.
- Low: Participants are dealing with a fabricated problem, which does not represent any real-world problem.
- Problem outcome: extent to which the problem is closed, best fit or open ended (judged by an expert in the domain and/or the teacher).
- High: Single solution/closed problems, problem has a single solution
- Medium: Multiple solutions/Best fit problems, problem has a number of possible solutions which can be evaluated using success and quality criteria.
- High: Any solutions/ Open problems, there is no single solution or best fit – any solution or outcome (except maybe no outcome) is a solution
- Interdependency: extent to which the design characteristics leading to social interdependence.
- High: Most/all of the design characteristics lead to social interdependence in the group.
- Medium: Some of the design characteristics lead to social interdependence in the group.
- Low: A few/none of the design characteristics lead to social interdependence in the group.
- Education Level: Level of education of the participants
- Primary School
- Secondary School
- Tertiary Education (FE and HE)
- A group with mixed education levels
- Education Environment: Participants’ physical space
- School Laboratories
- Physical Space/Context
- Flexible use of furniture/space for participant interaction explicitly considered and used
- Flexible use of furniture/space not considered or used
- Activity Environment: The interaction space
- Participants take actions to reach the aimed state in a digital environment (Building a tower in simulation environments).
- Participants take actions to reach the aimed state in the real world using physical models of the problem state (Building a small scale replica of a tower using models).
- Participants take actions to reach the aimed state in the real world problem state (Building the actual tower).
- Location of Participants: Location of the participants with respect to each other.
- Participants are in the same physical environment
- Participants are in different physical environments.
- Participants are assessed on their performance
- Participants are assessed on their performance as a group.
- Participants are monitored on their performance individually, but not assessed.
- Participants are monitored on their performance as a group, but not assessed.
- Participants are not monitored or assessed on their performance.
- Identity of support provider: identity of the support provided
- Trained expert
- Assistant/mentor (teaching assistant or LSA)
- Digital tool/context
- Physical tool/context
- Resources and tools: tools or resources for assisting with the CPS
- Only digital tools/resources used
- Only physical tools/resources used
- Both digital and physical resources used
- Support Provided: Amount and quality of support provided to participants with digital tools and/or adult support.
- High: Scaffolded support for both the social and the problem space is provided.
- Medium: Scaffolded support is provided either in the social or the problem space.
- Low: Support not provided for the social or the problem space.