Archives for category: Fall Institute 2013

 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?


We are now putting together a page of links to the presentations and discussions that took place at the Institute, as well as background documentation. Have a look! French presentations are also going up, albeit more slowly. Videos will also be embedded in this page.\


From left to right: Beautiful City Theatre actors Adam Daniel Koren, Alyson Leah, Maija Sidial Whitney, and Samantha Chaulk in “Measure for Measure”. Photograph by Tam Lan Truong

To kick off Fall Institute 2013 – Interpreting PIAAC Results: Understanding Competencies of the Future, the Beautiful City Theatre troupe performed Measure for Measure, which included the players repeatedly listening intently for messages of meaning at the feet of a “PIAAC” teddy bear.  Sabadooey PIAAC?, they intoned each time, speaking in tongues. And the bear whispered back disembodied words and phrases: “skills mismatch”, “technology-rich environments”, and the like.  Each pronouncement from the PIAAC bear led into a short mime with sound, but finally led the audience to ask:   What is PIAAC telling us? Is it telling us things that challenge our pre-conceived ideas, or are we mainly hearing what we already believe to be true?

Perhaps a more relevant question than “what does PIAAC tell us?” is “What are people seeing and hearing in PIAAC?”  We heard from a British participant that the poor results for people aged 18-24 in England and Northern Ireland are seen by the Conservative-led government as confirmation that the reforms they have already proposed for British education are indeed necessary. American results were greeted with general dismay by the few who noticed them amidst the political drama over the US government shutdown. Heidi Silver-Pacuilla from the U.S. Office of Vocational and Adult Education said there was virtually “no good news” for the U.S. in PIAAC. In Canada, reaction to the PIAAC results has been subdued: in fact, government officials from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick reported that there was virtually “no buzz” at all about PIAAC in their respective provinces. This may be in part because, as Patrick Bussiere, from Employment Resources and Skills Canada, reported early on Day One, Canada’s results were average overall: above average in Problem-Solving in a Technology Rich Environment (PS-TRE), below average in numeracy, and about average (but rather polarized between the highly-skilled and the poorly skilled) in literacy — no shocks here.

Other possible reasons suggested for the restrained PIAAC coverage in Canada included loss of shock headlines since the OECD and the government of Canada no longer propose Level 3 as a benchmark.  Hence no one can claim that PIAAC tells us that nearly half the Canadian population are “unable to function in a modern economy”.  Still others suggested that there is general  “survey fatigue”.

Whatever the reason, Measure for Measure ended with a light-hearted caution — “Don’t jump to conclusions!” The Institute ended with general agreement that we need more analysis and reflection before we can interpret what the results might mean for policy and program, and that no single survey, however rich in data, can be treated as an oracle on literacy and learning, which are so deeply interconnected with social, economic and human issues such as productivity, poverty, exclusion, family life, health and aging.