Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Scientific Learning Fosters Strategic Decision-Making Skills

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Socio-scientific answers are rarely specific enough to concrete. The complexity of making determinations in this field helps in highlighting which methods of strategic decision-making people are using. Research by Eggert & Bogeholz delves into the complex processes students use to make socio-scientific decisions based upon competing information and ambiguous direction (2010). Their results show that scientific thinking improves complexity of thought and strategy making.

The process of making decisions that border between scientific research and sociological concepts is difficult. In scientific research it is necessary to answer ambiguous and specific questions like the potential societal benefits of research or the exact measurements used in instrumentation. It is hard for people to make cognitive models that can handle such widely dispersed information effectively. 

Understanding science requires the ability to look at data, be open to new data, and understand its implications on people. It is a higher skill set that not everyone can develop and those who do have spend years learning. It uses analytical thinking, creativity, systematic approaches, and sociological perspectives all meshed together to come to conclusions. 

 Science can enhance skills in argumentation, decision-making, and problem-solving.  Strategy can be developed when people learn about trade-offs which is seen as the ability to weigh and balance certain factors. Where a loss occurs in one set of options there can be gain in another set of options. Most people are limited to only a few factors and simply cut off the rest. As intelligence and knowledge increases more factors can be incorporated into the systematic thinking process without having to automatically limit oneself to a few simple possibilities.

In science it is possible to make decisions on key pieces of data. Each one has their own weight of influence. To come to better conclusions a level of meta-reflection on the decision making process is necessary to ensure that thinking patterns are appropriate and not biasing the outcome. To do this well requires the integration of multiple pieces of information, seeing how they interact, determining trade-offs of different factors, and reflecting on the whole process. 

Complexity of thinking ranges from spontaneous thinking with no reflection to high levels of tradeoffs with meta-reflection. Intermediate thinkers use both cut offs and tradeoffs with some level of reflection on the thinking process. The highest level scientific thinkers use tradeoffs with relative weighting to think through possibilities.  The far majority of people use cut-offs because it is easier to work with limited data.

The researchers Eggert & Bogeholz used the Rasch partial credit model to determine the competencies German science students were using to make decisions. A total of 436 students were engaged within the study and assessed based upon their decision-making skills. Their work helps highlight that even with a scientific education the skill can be increased but is not developed by everyone. 

The results showed that science education raised non-compensatory decision-making strategies to mixed strategies and then to tradeoff strategies as people developed. Participants had difficulty weighing many different criteria to make appropriate decisions. Meta-reflection changed thinking from a content specific analysis to a strategic analysis that is based on an analysis of multiple options. 

The majority of participants used the cut off method that focused on looking at a single or few aspects of the overall problem. They had difficulty weighing and balancing a greater amount of information, points, and criteria to get a more concrete picture. Yet as a person’s education rises from six to twelve years their ability to manage more pieces of information grew tremendously. 

The cognitive structure and complexity of thought are important aspects of making decisions and developing a strategy. It is a skill that increases as one spends more time in school or learning about science. Generally, the more one is capable of balancing multiple pieces of information the more able they are to build progressive strategies that achieve goals. Seeing information through varying possibilities and weighing and balancing the likelihood of each outcome is a higher order skill. Quickly discarding options without thorough analysis limits how well one can respond to environmental challenges. The report helps to show how leaders decision-making ability can be enhanced by focusing on evidence based strategic management and then reflecting on those decisions to ensure they are accurate. 

Effert, S. & Bogeholz, S. (2010). Student’s use of decision-making strategies with regard to socioscientific issues: an application of Rasch partial credit model. Science Education, 94 (2)

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