How PISA measures students’ ability to collaborate

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills
Late next month (21 November, to be exact) we’ll be releasing the results PISA’s first-ever assessment of students’ ability to solve problems collaboratively. Why has PISA focused on this particular set of skills? Because in today’s increasingly interconnected world, people are often required to collaborate in order to achieve their objectives, both in the workplace and in their personal lives. Working with others is not as easy as it sounds. One person might end up reproducing another’s work; poor communication and personal tensions between people might prevent a team from reaching its goal. So it’s worth finding out whether students today know what it takes to work (and play) well with others.
This month’s PISA in Focus describes what it means, according to PISA, to be competent in collaborative problem solving. Along with the skills needed to solve problems individually, a good team member also has to develop and maintain a shared understanding of the problem with his or her teammates, take the actions needed to solve the problem, and establish and maintain team organisation. These skills can help determine how students learn, teachers teach and how we judge the performance of schools.
PISA in Focus also explains how PISA is able to measure students’ collaboration skills – not, as you might expect, by observing students as they work with other students, but by following their interactions with team members who are actually computer simulations of humans (known as computer agents). Today’s technology allows us to assess students’ 21st century skills. Not only can the behaviour of these computer agents be controlled, but they can also be programmed so that some are more co-operative than others, and some may be more focused on solving the problem than others. Sound familiar? Yes: they’re programmed to be just like you and me.
Several “screen shots” from a part of the assessment that was released to the public are also presented so you can get a better idea of the kinds of tasks PISA students were asked to perform, and how the students’ responses express the skills they need to collaborate with others. In short, this month’s PISA in Focus gives you both a behind-the-scenes look at the thinking that went into the design of the assessment, and a front-row seat for when the results of the assessment are released next month.

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