One component of PIAAC that distinguishes it from its predecessors (IALS, IALSS), is PS-TRE (Problem-Solving in a Technology Rich Environment). This section of the PIAAC survey assessed the ability of adults to accomplish certain tasks and solve problems using a laptop computer and some common software applications such as e-mail or Word. Those respondents who indicated on the background questionnaire that they did not use computers or were found to be unable to use them well enough to take the computer-assisted version of PIAAC were excluded from the PS-TRE component and completed the rest of the survey on paper (same question re test or survey). One surprising Canadian finding was that 7% of those aged 16-24 fell into this category.

What is PS-TRE? As we note in our Fall Institute 2013 Research Scan: Problem-Solving in a Technology Rich Environment and Related Topics, the term seems to have originated in the U.S. National Assessment of Educational Progress in the early 2000’s, in which “(n)ationally representative samples of 8th graders were assessed on two computer – delivered, extended problem solving scenarios […] The two main components of PS-TRE assessed were computer skills and scientific inquiry, and performance was judged by both the quality of answers given to open-ended and multiple-choice questions and of the process undertaken to reach those answers.” The OCED version of PS-TRE similarly combines technological aptitude with abstract problem-solving skills. But is it possible to abstract a generic set of “problem-solving” skills from the context of the actual problem-solving that people do? Since those aged 16-24 are generally assumed to be “digital natives”, some participants at the Fall Institute wondered why they had not done better in PS-TRE, especially in the United States. Could it be that younger people in particular tend to use digital technologies for things that don’t match the “problem-solving” scenarios in PIAAC, as David Rosen suggested during a discussion on PS-TRE on Day 2 of the Institute? Does this reflect a possible different kind of mismatch?