A Cognitive Approach to Assessing the Materials in Problem-Based Learning Environments

John R. Drake, Ravi Paul
Journal of Information Technology Education: Innovations in Practice  •  Volume 20  •  2021  •  pp. 059-079

The purpose of this paper is to develop and evaluate a debiasing-based approach to assessing the learning materials in problem-based learning (PBL) environments.

Research in cognitive debiasing suggests nine debiasing strategies improve decision-making. Given the large number of decisions made in semester-long, problem-based learning projects, multiple tools and techniques help students make decisions. However, instructors may struggle to identify the specific tools or techniques that could be modified to best improve students’ decision-making in the project. Furthermore, a structured approach for identifying these modifications is lacking. Such an approach would match the debiasing strategies with the tools and techniques.

This debiasing framework for the PBL environment is developed through a study of debiasing literature and applied within an e-commerce course using the Model for Improvement, continuous improvement process, as an illustrative case to show its potential. In addition, a survey of the students, archival information, and participant observation provided feedback on the debiasing framework and its ability to assess the tools and techniques within the PBL environment.

This paper demonstrates how debiasing theory can be used within a continuous improvement process for PBL courses. By focusing on a cognitive debiasing-based approach, this debiasing framework helps instructors 1) identify what tools and techniques to change in an PBL environment, and 2) assess which tools and techniques failed to debias the students adequately, providing potential changes for future cycles.

Using the debiasing framework in an e-commerce course with significant PBL elements provides evidence that this framework can be used within IS courses and more broadly. In this particular case, the change identified in a prior cycle proved effective and additional issues were identified for improvement.

With the growing usage of semester-long PBL projects in business schools, instructors need to ensure that their design of the projects incorporates techniques that improve student learning and decision making. This approach provides a means for assessing the quality of that design.

This study uses debiasing theory to improve course techniques. Researchers interested in assessment, course improvement, and program improvement should incorporate debiasing theory within PBL environments or other types of decision-making scenarios.

Increased awareness of cognitive biases can help instructors, students, and professionals make better decisions and recommendations. By developing a framework for evaluating cognitive debiasing strategies, we help instructors improve projects that prepare students for complex and multifaceted real-world projects.

The approach could be applied to multiple contexts, within other courses, and more widely within information systems to extend this research. The framework might also be refined to make it more concise, integrated with assessment, or usable in more contexts.

cognitive biases, problem-based learning, e-commerce, debiasing, PDSA, continuous improvement
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