PISA adds a new dimension to its assessment results

Learning often happens in collaboration – implications of this for the performance of students are the subject of the latest addition of the PISA study to understanding what makes quality education.

A new facet of learning

The already existing PISA 2015 results have now been enriched by a new volume, the fifth in the series, devoted to Collaborative Problem Solving. Published today, 21 November, collaborative problem solving was an additional optional assessment introduced for the first time with PISA 2015. Fifty-seven countries adopted it as an additional assessment, and the results of fifty one were analysed and integrated into the report.

PISA 2015 defines collaborative problem solving as “the capacity of an individual to effectively engage in a process [with others] to solve a problem by sharing the understanding and effort required to come to a solution and pooling their knowledge, skills and efforts to reach that solution.

Humans and computers

While in the PISA assessment one agent is the student whose performance is being evaluated, all other agents are computerised simulations. According to the University of Luxembourg, a computerised assessment can accurately measure students’ ability to collaborate with other humans. The University compared human/computer collaborators in the assessments with human/human collaborators in the same situation. It found that this computer based assessment was “a moderately good predictor of (students’) performance in the face to face collaboration units with another human”.

Appraisal by the education community 

The education community has welcomed this new volume, stressing that “teaching and encouraging students to collaborate with each other is at the heart of the lives of very many schools”, according to a first evaluation by Education International (EI), the global teacher union federation.

Fred van Leeuwen, EI General Secretary, stressed that an assessment which contradicts the punitive top down tests on individual students imposed by some governments on schools should be welcome. “Every teacher knows that students thrive in their schools, not in isolation but in the company of their peers. Students learn from each other both inside and outside their classrooms. Such an assessment should also help rebut the use of individual student test results to evaluate schools and teachers”.

Key findings

Education International considers a number of results to be interesting for policy purposes. PISA finds that girls out-perform boys in collaborative problem solving. Boys prefer team work whereas girls tend to value relationships more.

Also, attitudes towards collaboration are more positive when students attend more physical education classes per week. The results also find that the use of video games undermines collaborative problem solving.

Concerns about the method

The decision by the OECD to substitute a human student in a collaborative situation with a computer agent has been signalled as cause for concern. Despite the fact that in an increasingly digitalised world the collaboration of people with computer agents is an increasing trend, EI considers human to human interaction remains a cornerstone in the learning process. Therefore, the value to be gathered from these assessments and should be considered taking into account their limited nature, the statement concludes.


A webinar organised by the OECD on the new findings will be available today, November 21 at 4PM Paris time and is accessible through this link


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