This post was written by Tyler Frank, a member of the Digital Equity in Library research team. Tyler earned his M.A. in Language, Reading, and Culture from the University of Arizona and is an Adult Basic Education Instructor at Pima Community College, Tucson, Arizona.
On March 9th Tyler and his colleague, Gloria Jacobs, presented roundtables based on their work with the Digital Equity in Libraries (DEL) project at Dr. Patty Anders’ retirement conference, “Adolescent, Family and Community Literacy: Mobilizing Strength-based Pedagogies” at the University of Arizona. Tyler’s presentation was entitled “Supporting Digital Problem Solving.”
In the presentation I traced the growth of my understanding of digital problem solving as a member of the DEL project and considered strength-based approaches to supporting adult learners as they solve problems in the digital world.
Before I began working in the DEL project I had a simplistic, step-by-step understanding of the problem solving process and little sense of the unique aspects of problem solving in the digital world. Through the research, we noticed different choices and strategies (see “Some Digital Problem Solving Strategies & Choices” table) that helped problem solvers navigate a digital task, but those strategies and choices did not line up in a neat series of steps.
Some Digital Problem Solving Strategies & Choices
|Consider and clarify purpose
|Check and recheck progress
||Experiment with tools
|Consider and reconsider which information is necessary
||Identify purpose and potential of tools and interfaces
I had always thought of a first step of problem solving as “identifying purpose”, but I saw problem solvers dive in with a general understanding of their purpose, then revisit their purpose to home in on exactly how to accomplish that clearer and clearer goal. Checking their progress forced them to keep their purpose in mind, but also forced them to keep clarifying their purpose to something more and more specific and more and more attainable. As these fluid standards became more solidified the most important information was brought into focus and less important information was ignored. What I was seeing was not a step-by-step process, but a fluidly iterative process; repetitive choices and strategies progressively built on each other as the problem solver simultaneously got closer to the target and clarified what the target exactly was. I saw problem solvers engaging in all of the strategies and choices listed in the table, but they did so in their own unique ways, cycling through them and mixing them in different proportions depending on their own goals and experience.
Given how complex this type of problem solving is, getting adult learners the support they need for their digital learning and problem solving is imperative. This calls for techniques and tools that support digital users in accomplishing their goals as they continue to develop their abilities. Helping learners build on their current practices in order to accomplish their goals means moving beyond one-size-fits-all solutions and calls into doubt computer-based skill-and-drill activities in favor of embedding digital learning and problem solving within meaningful everyday needs and supporting learners as they try, learn, practice and cycle through problem solving. Meeting the digital needs of the adult community means not just providing access to devices and internet, but also providing support for digitally problem solving around their personal, familial, civic, educational, and professional lives.
You can access Tyler’s slides from the presentation.