Scaffolding or no scaffolding?

Regular readers of this blog will know that one of my hats has 'Editor' written all on it. I'm co-editor of the Routledge journal Interactive Learning Environments, which this year went to 4 issues a year and in 2011 will extend its reach to 5 issues a year. We have a large amount of submissions each year and are kept very busy as a team managing, reviewing and editing the journal. This means that only the best papers are published, and periodically I give readers a glimpse of some of them. Here's the abstract of a stand-out paper from the current issue, written by Connie Siew Ling Ng, Wing Sum Cheung and Khe Foon Hew, from the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. It is thought provoking at a number of levels, not least because it takes a position on scaffolding using web tools, and challenges us to think about learning through Problem Based Learning in a new way:

Solving ill-structured problems in asynchronous online discussions: built-in scaffolds vs. no scaffolds

Solving ill-structured problems is regarded as an important learning outcome in education as it allows learners to apply theories learnt into real practice. An asynchronous online discussion, with extended time for reflection, is an appropriate learning environment to engage learners in solving ill-structured problems. However, scaffolds may be needed to support learners in the online discussions. This study explores the effect of online scaffolds in supporting a group of graduate students' ill-structured problem-solving processes in asynchronous online discussions. The results of this study showed that the use of the online scaffolds did not lead to a significant difference in the number of ill-structured problem-solving processes. Further analysis revealed that wrong selection of message labels and under-usage of sentence openers affected the results of this study. Improvements for online scaffolds include having more precise message labels and sentence openers based on a Socratic questioning approach.

Reference: Ng, C., Cheung, W. S. and Hew, K. F. (2010) Solving ill-structured problems in asynchronous online discussions: Built-in scaffolds vs. no scaffolds. Interactive Learning Environments, 18 (2), 115-134.

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