Dissertation Information for Eric Matthew Meyers
MPACT Status: Fully Complete
Title: The Nature and Impact of Information Problem Solving in the Middle School Classroom
Abstract: Essential skills for the 21st Century involve the ability to work with others to find information, learn, and solve problems. Given the emphasis on group work and peer learning in many schools and workplaces, educators frequently assign young people to work in groups. However, we know little about the processes and outcomes of group work including whether it leads to better search practices or more efficacious problem solving. This research project addressed this challenge through a mixed method study situated in the middle school classroom. One hundred twenty students (ages 13-14 years) in four classrooms participated in two information-seeking tasks. In each task, students sought online information on health and wellness topics. Half of the students worked in groups of three and half as individuals across the two tasks using a crossover experimental design. Data were gathered on students' learning outcomes using pre- and posttest instruments, on their task performance using task worksheets, and on their socio-affective responses to the two experimental conditions using a survey. Eight individuals and eight groups in the first task agreed to have their problem solving process recorded (screen capture and audio). The findings indicate that working in groups activates several important learning processes during search, such as strategy discussion, resource pooling, and cognitive conflict. However, groups did not produce better products than individuals working on the same task. Groups encountered more process losses than gains; as a result, they showed significantly lower performance on information problem solving tasks than students who worked alone. Despite students' apparent preference for working in groups, this arrangement does not always provide cognitive benefits or improved learning outcomes. The major contribution of this work is the explication of the relationship between group information seeking processes and the products of that activity, in terms of students' problem solutions and measures of conceptual development. The empirical findings contributed to the emergence of the Group6 Problem Solving model, which builds on existing models of information seeking and use. This study further advances our understanding of group information work, and provides needed guidance to educators and information professionals who work with youth.
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