Facilitating Structured Problem-Solving active learning activities in physically-distanced learning spaces
Time and Effort
|Instructor Prep Time||Medium|
|Student Activity Time||Medium|
|Instructor Response Time||Medium|
|Complexity of Activity||Medium|
Structured Problem-Solving gives students a process for solving a complex, content-based problem within a specific time limit. All students must agree to a solution and be able to explain the answer and strategy used to solve the problem. The activity will help identify where students need to develop and/or improve their problem-solving skills.|
Use it when you want...
- To break a problem-solving process into specific steps,
- To have students identify, analyze, and solve problems in an organized manner,
- To give students a structured format — preventing them from being overwhelmed by the magnitude of a problem, or from engaging in irrelevant steps by providing manageable steps.
What students will need
- Laptop, or tablet, or mobile phone
- Classroom with campus wireless connection
- Resources for student access to computers
The following workflow is meant as guidance for how you can facilitate a Structured Problem-Solving learning activity within a classroom with a physical distancing layout.
- Create a problem that is complex enough to require students to use sophisticated problem-solving skills. Use research and current questions in the field as a resource.
- Choose an identification and solving procedure that is appropriate to the type of problem selected.
- Solve the problem yourself using the identified problem-solving procedure to uncover any difficulties or errors.
- Create a handout that includes both the problem and the problem-solving steps.
- Develop handouts for the problem to guide students’ analysis using Google Docs and/or create a Blackboard Collaborate Ultra session in which students will work collaboratively.
- Organize students into teams and assign them a complex problem to solve. Note: Consider limiting the group size to 2-3 students. Groups larger than 2-3 people are encouraged to use text-based chat features instead of speaking to one another to reduce the noise volume in the room and to prevent shouting across long distances between students.
- Share the method students will use to work collaboratively on the activity.
- Option 1: Students speak with one another across the empty seats.
- Option 2: Groups follow a link that creates a new version of the template in Google Docs. Students share the document with each other and with the instructor.
- Option 3: Direct students to the Canvas course space and into the Blackboard Collaborate Ultra session. Create breakout rooms spaces for each group. Note: Breakout groups are only available in sessions with 250 or fewer attendees. You can create up to 20 breakout rooms. There is no limit to the number of attendees you can put in each group.
- Ask students to use the specific steps you have identified as a problem-solving technique: (a) identify the problem; (b) generate possible solutions; (c) evaluate and test the various solutions; (d) decide on a mutually acceptable solution; (e) implement plan, and (f) evaluate the results.
- Teams report the steps they took and the solution they developed.
- Review reports.
- Provide feedback/grades to group participants.
- Discuss the results of the activity at the next class meeting.
Accessibility and Room Considerations
- Classroom furniture is not to be rearranged to facilitate activities. If you need a different general assignment classroom to meet your instructional needs, contact your curricular representative.
- If students are to move around the room during an activity, consider the mobility, location, equipment, and furniture needs of all students.
- The physical distance between students (particularly in large lecture halls) may make it difficult for students to hear one another when they are asked to speak.
- This same physical distance may increase the noise level in the room as students try to speak to one another. This noise level may cause issues for some students. To this end, it is recommended that group size be limited to pairs (ideally) or triads at most. Activities requiring larger group sizes should utilize text-based chat solutions like those found in Blackboard Collaborate Ultra.
- The technologies recommended here should meet most campus accessibility requirements. However, you should check with the McBurney Disability Resources Center for guidance on any specific accommodations for your students.
Barkley, Elizabeth F. et al. Collaborative Learning Techniques A Handbook For College Faculty. Wiley, 2014. pp. 244-248.