Against all odds: problem-solving strategies and behavioural characteristics of novice students

Pei Fen Chang, Miao Chen Lin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study investigates problem-solving difficulties of novices in a classroom setting, using a German instructional tool, the Fischertechnik kit of approximately 400 parts. In order to analyse the students’ thinking processes as they solved the problems, verbal protocol analysis (VPA) was used to record the students’’ thinking processes and action stages for three case problems. Next, we plotted the experimental process in each case on five work completion time axes, representing time in the experiment in accordance with the substance of the five main tasks. To highlight the features of the novices’ problem-solving efforts, a summary discussion and analysis of the problem-solving processes in the three cases is presented. The novice students in this study displayed the following characteristics during their problem-solving process: (1) all of them employed ‘working-forward’ cognitive strategies, which shows that novices usually rely on certain operations to change the current situation; (2) they tended to adopt their responses based on their assessment of the linkages between their previous experiences and new ones, which leads to continuous development via a process of changing equilibration; (3) as a result of these novices’ inability to fully clarify the key problem elements, they mostly adopted an intuitive trial and error approach. When confronting problems, these novice students tended to implement their solutions immediately after encountering the problem. Finally, this study provides recommendations for future instructional design based on its results.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-319
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Further and Higher Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - 4 May 2015


  • interdisciplinary research
  • novice
  • problem-solving process


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