What is Documented Problem Solving

Documented problem solving is a teaching and learning technique that requires students to write down, step-by-step, the thought process they follow when answering a question or solving a problem.

man thinking

Documented Problem Solving is a Flexible Teaching and Learning Tool

As originally described by Angelo & Cross , 1993, documented problem solving is a classroom assessment technique that assists instructors in understanding student problem-solving strategies. It is a flexible tool that can be applied to a variety of disciplines and has been successful used in Law (Hess, 1999); Linguistics (Angelo & Cross, 1993); Precalculus (Keller, 2009); Astronomy (Durisen and Pilachowski, 2004); English, Math, and Writing (Carnegie Foundation, 2007) and Economics (see the example below).

Documented problem solving can be adapted to multiple learning situations including work that is completed during class or outside of class, large projects or small assignments, and work done individually or in groups. It can be tailored to various class sizes, types of instruction, and course difficulty, and it can be used in conjunction with other teaching pedagogies such as cooperative learning and context-rich problems.

What Documented Problem Solving Looks Like

Documented problem solving is always composed of three parts - the question, the student's answer, and the instructor's feedback.

For example, in an economics class, students worked in small groups to answer the following question:

Assume that a country's current production possibilities curve is represented by PPF1in the graph. Also assume that the country has just finished fighting a war on their home territory. Draw the production possibilities curve (or frontier) that would likely exist immediately following the war and label it PPF2.

Group 1 answer: Our group thought about and discussed what effects a war could have on a country.
We came to the conclusion that a war would destroy or diminish resources. Based on our notes, we already knew that with less resources, less goods could be produced. We referred to the book and then drew the second production possibilities frontier to exhibit exactly that which means it's inside the original curve - PPF1. Last we stated why we drew the new PPF the way we did. PPF

The instructor's response: Very good! Just remember that technology may have decreased too which would also contribute to the decrease in the PPF.

Group 2 answer: First we analyzed the situation. After a war, a country produces less output because
it doesn't need to produce all the military goods that were used for the war. This means less products of all kinds will be produced, resulting in smaller values on both axes of the PPF graph for every point on the PPF curve. Then we drew the graph. A curve will be drawn that is completely underneath the initial PPF curve. PPF 2

The instructor's response: You are correct that the new PPF will be inside the initial PPF, but not because of the decrease in demand for military goods. Following the war, the resources that were previously allocated to the production of military goods will be shifted to the production of nonmilitary goods, such as goods that consumers and businesses demand. Thus, PPF2 will be inside PPF1 because resources (and technology) were likely destroyed during the war. Think about Europe and Japan following World War II.

What Makes Documented Problem Solving Different From Other Teaching Techniques?

Documented problem solving:

Allows instructors to view students' thought processes

Documented problem solving asks students to write down each step they use in order to solve a problem. Because the student's thought process becomes visible, documented problem solving helps to identify "missteps" or "breakdowns" that occur in the problem-solving process.

Permits instructors to see students' misunderstandings that might otherwise be missed

Look at the graphs drawn by the two groups above. They look the same. Interestingly, the flawed process used by Group 2 still resulted in the correct graph, and the misunderstanding might have gone undetected except for the use of documented problem solving.

Focuses on the process rather than the product (or the correct answer)

In the example above, the instructor did not deduct points for the flawed documented problem solution. Rather, it was used as an opportunity to correct the students' misunderstanding and reteach the concept.

Encourages students to become more aware of their problem solving strategies

As the groups above wrote down the steps used to solve the problem, they indicated that they started with information they already knew and combined it with information from the lecture or text. When students pause and think about their solution process this evokes metacognition.awareness of one's own learning process

Promotes the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills

As students focus on the process they are using to solve a problem, they frequently mention that they refer to their notes, the text or what they already know.By starting with a given set of information, it seems they are then able to expand on that knowledge and begin the analytical and critical thinking processes.