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Human Information Processing and Problem-Solving The Gestalt account of problem-solving tells us that the structural quality of our perception assists the solution process, and when we fail to solve problems, this amounts easy essay help to a failure to perceive the structure of the 128 THE EXPERIENCE OF LEARNING problem situation. By contrast, the information processing approach focuses on the mechanism of the problem-solving process. Information processing looks at the various procedures that people adopt, and integrates these into a more deterministic account of how humans solve problems.
The resulting program represents the theoretical description of problem-solving.
In principle, of course, it is not necessary that such a program be written — the theory does not stand or fall by the fact that the computer solves the problem or not, but by whether it is possible to write such a program. If an information processing account is sufficient to describe human problem-solving, then in principle it should be possible to program a computer to perform the same procedures. The value of the attempted simulation is that it highlights the gaps between theory and practice. This kind of approach is characterized well by the work of Newell and Simon who developed a program called General Problem Solver. Their analysis of protocols revealed what these were and they could be represented in a computer program capable of solving the same problem in a similar way. Failures to solve problems can then be seen as failures either to apply the correct heuristic, or to use one at all. For the problem above, the means-end analysis will tell you that in order to get from the given to the goal, you need to break the problem into individual algebraic sums, and use what you know about the rules of addition, together with the given information, to deduce the various values. The creation of sub-goals then follows, in the form of considering individual columns. The program developed from these steps will then represent the theory that humans use these heuristic procedures in solving such a problem. The general easy essay help heuristic procedures, such as means-end analysis, creating sub-goals, or working forwards and backwards can be applied to any problem. Thus the General Problem-Solver uses these heuristics, together with an appropriate representation of the problem, to generate the specific heuristics for that problem, such as those in the above paragraph.
This, the theory states, is what a human being will do when confronted with a new problem, i. The value of the theory lies in its description of the heuristic procedures we use in problem solving, because if these can be made explicit for students then there is some possibility that they can be assisted in learning how to solve problems. One of the greatest theoretical difficulties with the information processing approach is that it begs the very important question of what is an appropriate representation of the problem. Some of the research in the field of Artificial Intelligence has attempted to answer this by analysing the underlying structure of the problem, and looking at how this relates to the solution strategies students adopt. There is no suggestion that the student is aware of the underlying structure. Yet research shows that the characteristics of solution protocols differ according to the structure of the problem (Luger, 1975), and so the problem-solving strategies students adopt are determined, in part, by the form of the problem.
The question now is: how far does the theory apply to the practice of problem-solving in higher education?
We are no longer concerned with the general processes of human psychology, but with the personal reality experienced by students as they learn.
A recent study on how students learn from problem-solving was carried out with a small group of 12 university students studying the second year of a combined science course (Laurillard, 1979a).
The aim of the study was to investigate how students approach and carry out problem-solving tasks set as part of their coursework. The course chosen was a course on micro-electronics, and the study focused on three of the problems set.
Questionnaires were completed soon after the problem task had been finished so that students were able to remember what they did in some detail. Several such heuristic devices were apparent, but they did not operate in quite the way we might have expected. Data of this kind necessarily give us a different perspective on the process of learning. They cannot tell us what cognitive processes are involved and how they operate, but instead they can tell us, for example, how the student perceives the given problem-solving task. Consider these quotes from students, explaining their initial approach to a problem which involved writing a device control program for a given micro- processor. The quotes record the important first step of making sure they understand the problem. I read through the question to see what was familiar from the lecture, i. I have to sort through the wording very slowly to understand what he wants us to do. I read through with reference to the class notes making sure I understand the sequence. But what is common to all these students is the focus of their attention, not on the problem itself, but on the problem as set by a teacher in the context of a particular course. We might expect that the first stages in solving such a problem would be to consider what kind of microprocessor it is, what kinds of control would be needed, which instructions are relevant etc. Each student, in different ways, relates the problem to its educational context: the lecture, the lecturer, the lecture notes. Then I decided which components were wanted and which were not and started to draw it out, more or less copying without really thinking. I decided since X was setting the question, block diagrams were needed. Each step, and each strategic decision made, refer to the immediate context of the problem as it occurs in that course.