Sunday, March 3, 2013

Post 7: Information Retrieval is Problem Solving

Question: Think of an activity or lesson component that explicitly teaches one or more metacognitive and one or more problem solving skills.

In class, we discussed the following set of procedures that could be applied to any problem-solving situation:

I - Identify the problem.
D - Define the problem.
E - Explore possible strategies or solutions.
A - Act on those strategies.
L - Look back and evaluate.

Essentially, the information retrieval process is a continuous loop of this cycle. From the simplest search for a book that you might enjoy reading to the most complex dissertation research processes, all learners engage in this cycle, or some variation of it, in order to "solve" their information question(s). Thus, any activity that engages learners in actively participating in this process is teaching problem-solving and metacognitive skills.

In the article "Information Problem Solving: A Wider View of Library Skills," Penny Moore concludes that we cannot perpetuate the division be "library skills" and "study skills." From her research, she notes that the development of skills in information problem solving is: 
a prime candidate for [special efforts to foster thinking abilities] since these are essentially concerned with complex concept formation. In addition, skills developed in this area are widely applicable as the information retrieval process is largely unaffected by the user's level of cognitive development and the subject matter being sought. What changes with the student's level of education is the complexity of the materials use to solve the problem and the depth of research necessary to produce a satisfactory answer. (30)
Her article finds that some students (in this case, 6th grade) may have difficulty with the necessary tactics to execute various strategies. However, most still engage in the necessary function of evaluation - sometimes early, sometimes late in the process - because at the end of the day, the success of a research process depends on it. Follow the flow chart......Did I find what I was searching for? Did my question find a satisfactory answer? If the answer is yes, then my process has been completed. End loop. If no, then I need to go back and explore another strategy (which we hope leads to further questions about why the original process did not work or was not successful). Loop continues.

Moore, P. (1995). Information problem solving: A wider view of library skills. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 20(1), 1-31.


  1. I remember you mentioned the strategy of asking yourself questions in class and so I was glad I was able to read about it on your blog post. I think having students ask themselves questions is a great way for them to think about their thinking and for them to see if they have reached their destination. If the answer is no, then they know they need to go back and retrace their steps. This way, they can catch themselves and refocus (whatever they are doing--research, reading a story, etc.) before they have gone too far.

  2. I agree completely that we can't disassociate library skills and study skills - they're intertwined. What you bring up about the loop is a great way to think about comprehension monitoring and metacognition.