Section II The Living Laboratory Learning in Action

The Living Laboratory in the Context of Educational Research

Xun Ge


One of the most essential skills in the twenty-first century is problem solving, particularly ill-defined and ill-structured problem solving (Jonassen, 2011). We encounter ill-structured problems every day in our life. These are problems with vague goals, unclear contextual information, less specified situations, or missing information needed to solve the problems (Chi & Glaser, 1985; Jonassen, 1997; Sinnott, 1989; Voss & Post, 1988). Examples of ill-structured problems include high school freshmen trying to map out a study plan for their high school curricula and educational researchers attempting to develop a computer-supported collaborative learning environment. The complexity of ill-structured problems poses difficulties for students, such as identifying sources of information, representing problems, organizing information for the problem to be solved, and monitoring their understanding and solution process (Feltovich, Spiro, Coulson, & Feltovich, 1996). Therefore, it is critical to reengineer our educational systems to help students develop critical thinking, self-directed learning (Hmelo-Silver, 2004; Hmelo-Silver & Barrows, 2006), and adaptive problem-solving skills through designing student-centered open learning environments (OLEs) (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Hannafin, Land, & Oliver, 1999). OLEs are learning environments encouraging self-inquiry, divergent thinking, and heuristics-based learning in ill-defined, ill-structured domains (Hannafin et al., 1999), represented by various learning approaches, such as problem-based learning (PBL) (Barrows & Tamblyn, 1980), anchored instruction (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt [CTGV], 1993), and communities of practice (Barab & Duffy, 2000; Wenger, 1998).

Compared with a traditional learning environment, in which students passively receive and process information from the teacher, students in an OLE assume more autonomy and responsibility for their own learning, whereas a teacher plays the role of a facilitator in their knowledge construction and creation process. In such a new learning and instructional paradigm, multiple stakeholders (e.g., students, the teachers, and educational researchers) contribute to and shape the design, development, and implementing of an OLE driven by problems. Furthermore, educational researchers play multiple roles (e.g., designer, facilitator, and researcher) in an attempt to understand ill-structured problems and investigate complex dynamics in situ (i.e., the natural setting of schools) (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989). Such questions arise: What are the meaning and process of educational reengineering, as found in OLEs, through the lens of cognitive systems engineering? How does design interact with research in the process of developing an innovative educational sociotechnical system? What tools can be used to help us frame and examine the process of cognitive systems reengineering in education?

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