Life Learning

Saturday 23 August 2014

Helping students think outside the box

Katherine Donnelly

Published 17/06/2013 | 05:00

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Problem 1

TWO radically different college courses stand out for the way they can equip students with the "thinking outside the box" skills that they will need both for work and life itself, a fascinating new study has found.

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The key focus of research at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) was how different sets of students approached a number of classic cognitive problems and whether they brought creative thinking to the tasks.

Students from the biomedical sciences, sociology, clinical speech and language studies, drama, and computer science and engineering took part.

And it was the drama and computer students who impressed the most, although their approaches to tasks were completely different.

The Irish Research Council-funded study was led by Dr Kathleen McTiernan, who discussed the preliminary results with the Irish Independent.

Dr McTiernan found drama and computer science and engineering students "were being taught to approach things differently, no matter what the the problem".

One of the tasks the students was asked to solve was the Radiation Problem, which involves radiating a tumour without destroying the surrounding healthy tissue.

"They (the drama students) were willing and able to take on the role of a doctor, and it was this persona shift that enabled them to approach and solve the problem successfully," said Dr McTiernan.

Meanwhile, the computing/engineering students approached problems differently. "This group was rule oriented, but in practice they applied the premise that rules are meant to be broken.

"So they pushed out parameters of the problems, repeatedly, which is what they are taught to do."

PROBLEMS

Q Problem 1

The Candle Problem (Dunker, 1995)

candle-problem-heuristicgg.jpg 

Fix a lit candle on a wall in a way so the candle wax won't drip on to the table below, using only a book of matches and a box of thumbtacks along with the candle.

Q Problem 2

dots.JPG

The Nine- Dot Problem

Draw four straight lines, which go through the middle of all of the dots without taking the pencil off the paper.

Q Problem 3

Radiation Problem (Dunker, 1945)

You are a doctor faced with a patient who has an inoperable stomach tumour. You have at your disposal rays that can destroy human tissue when directed with sufficient intensity. How can you use these rays to destroy the tumour without destroying the surrounding healthy tissue?

See the solutions

 

Irish Independent

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