Problem solving skills assessment methodology: design and application in a forestry case study

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University of New Brunswick


The purpose of this project was to design a methodology to elicit and evaluate the problem solving processes of adults for complex, realistic work problems. Process tracing techniques fit the design criteria. The prototype methodology presented in this report records the information search of participants solving a hypothetical case problem. Their search through a computer database of problem details offers a trace of process. The methodology was tested using a case study approach. Thirteen forest road construction supervisors from New Brunswick, Canada, solved a stream crossing design and construction planning problem. Indices of agreement (Rimoldi, 1960; Rimoldi & Raimondo, 1998) derived from an information theory of signal processing (Shannon, 1948; Attneave, 1959) were used to evaluate the consistency of participant search tactics with those of normative groups. Environmental quality was scored using the composite programming algorithm FCP-11 (Bardossy, Bogardi & Duckstein, 1985; Jones & Barnes, 2000). FCP-11 was used to calculate the distance between participant solutions and the environmental ideal. The time and cost of the search and the construction cost of the final design comprised the efficiency analysis. The results suggested the methods are sensitive to distinct task-related schemata and heuristics employed by participants. Effects of employer policies, government guidelines, biases and habituation to home territory were noted in participant approaches to the case problem. Participant rankings for consistency, environmental quality and efficiency parameters were used to identify who should receive training. Recommendations include ways to improve the ease of use, functionality and reliability of the methodology. Toward assurance of best practices, researchers, instructors and trainees alike may use the methodology to view and compare professionals' process traces for real work problems.