DEVELOPMENT AND ASSESSMENT OF PROBLEM SOLVING SKILL TO PROMOTE LEARNING IN CHEMISTRY
During the last decade, the Competence-Based Learning (CBL) approach, mainly centered on student learning outcomes, has gained widespread acceptance in the Higher Education community. The traditional educational model based on a mere knowledge’ acquisition is being shifted to a new model that allows students to learn in a meaningful and practical way. Learners need to know how to apply knowledge to new situations that take realistic account of their future careers ensuring a development of their professional skills. In this sense, the ability to solve problems is a complex cognitive skill that is considered one of the key competencies for all different areas in education since it is found in a great number of real-life settings outside the classroom. Confront and resolve problems require students to use their prior knowledge in a logical, analytical and critical way to achieve a sense of mastery of the process.
This article describes the employment of an innovative procedure focused on developing and assessing the problem solving competence within the domain of chemistry in an Environmental Engineering degree. The designed sequence comprises a series of stages where students begin to face a collection of well-defined problems to finish with the resolution of ill-defined problems. The study was conducted within a blended learning scenario in order to facilitate the contact between learners and teachers, avoiding the usual constraints caused in a traditional setting. In addition, instructors have been able to provide adequate and continuous feedback along the process through the support of the e-learning software platform provided by the institution. The employment of these new technologies facilitated not only to monitor students’ progress but also to readjust or even modify the process when necessary. Therefore, feedback has not been limited to give information to the students about their level of performance after completion of a given task but also it has served as a way to provide learners the guidance and the adequate suggestions to deal with future requirements and assignments; this is feedforward. The final results have confirmed that learners improved their initial level of acquisition of the generic competence studied, through the sequence that had been implemented. A survey was distributed at the end of the process to assess students’ satisfaction with the whole process and the results they had achieved. The vast majority of students declared an improvement in their ability to face and solve a problem and expressed a high level of satisfaction with the sequence proposed.