IIMS 94 contents
[ IIMS 94 contents ]

Hypermedia for creative problem solving

Dianne Hagan and Jason Lowder
Monash University, Victoria
Hypermedia can be used to present information in small amounts and in different ways, depending upon the path taken through the information by the user. This makes it useful in educational applications, since it can arouse curiosity, prevent cognitive overload and hold the interest of the user more easily than traditional presentations of the same information. This paper discusses the design of a hypermedia system intended to assist in the teaching of problem solving skills to children aged 9-12. The system encourages them to collect all relevant facts and to explore different approaches when solving realistic everyday problems.


Up to about nine years of age, children tend to think in a concrete manner. Between nine and twelve years of age, they develop the abstract reasoning ability necessary to draw together facts related to a complex problem in order to solve it (Papert, 1980).

A good problem solver has three attributes: she is comfortable with complex situations; she has a respect for facts; and she is self confident. These attributes are developed by practice. There is also a necessity to know how to solve problems using heuristics (rules of thumb) rather than hard and fast rules or algorithmic solutions (Adair, 1989).

Most of the currently available software aimed at assisting this development falls into three categories:

These types of problems are rarely related directly to everyday life. Children often have difficulty in seeing their relevance, and it is always easier to learn something that is perceived as relevant. In real life, the kinds of problems encountered are more likely to have heuristic than algorithmic solutions. In other words, there may be many ways to solve a problem and the aim is to choose the best solution. This kind of problem solving is what our prototype software, called Idea, is designed to facilitate.

Hypermedia program are a good way of teaching problem solving, as they allow the information related to the problem to be presented to the child in small chunks, and in successive levels of detail, reducing the likelihood of cognitive overload. The child requests more information as he feels the need, and is free to choose a path through the information according to his interests. Colours, pictures, sounds and animation attract and hold his attention and interest more easily than a book can, and encourage him to think of the learning process as a game rather than a chore. A hypermedia program forces the learner to become involved, making him a participant rather than a spectator. It is easier for a hypermedia program than for a teacher to present the same lesson in different ways to different students, thus tailoring the lesson to the individual's needs and interests.

Problem solving

The definition adopted by the authors is that of Gore (1988), who defines problem solving as the use of three steps:
  1. identifying how something actually is,
  2. identifying how that something would ideally be, and
  3. deciding what can be done about the situation.
Creative problem solving implies the generation of ideas as well as the use of known techniques and heuristics. The process of identifying the problem often involves breaking it down into a number of sub-problems. Hypertext is very useful in facilitating this decomposition. The problem is presented in a series of levels, and the links available at each level can suggest the sub-problem structure.

A number of techniques may be used during decomposition of a problem, including: classification, summarising, hypothesising, prediction, translation, reorganisation, prioritisation, goal setting, making of analogies, logical deduction, identification of propaganda, observation, and interpretation (Chuska, 1986). Most problems require the use of a combination of some, but not all, of these techniques.

Once the problem state of affairs is identified, the process of visualising the ideal state of affairs may include use of such techniques as imaging, setting of criteria, goal setting, making of assumptions, identification of consequences, creation and design.

Deciding the best solution to the problem involves techniques such as synthesis, sequencing, comparison, estimation, evaluation, decision making, justification, and identification of pros and cons.

The problems presented by Idea are intended to teach the learner to use different combinations of these skills.

When learning problem solving skills, children should be given access to tools with which to work, such as audio visual material, models, other people, experiences, diagrams, simulations, pictures and demonstrations. With children, pictures and diagrams often communicate more effectively than the written word.

Design of problem solving educational hyper-documents

Idea was designed to shift the fact finding process from the teacher to the student, allowing the teacher to concentrate on helping the student with the problem solving process, and giving the student the feeling that she is doing something immediately, rather than reading or listening to long explanations about the problem.

It is important that children derive pleasure from using educational software. To this end, it must incorporate challenge, rewards, novelty and freedom.

Educational software succeeds when there is a challenge involved. Greenfield (1984) states that the greatest amount of motivation to play a computer game is attained when the probability of success is around 50%. Much less than this, and the game is considered too easy and therefore boring. Much more than this, and it is so difficult as to be not worth the effort.

In order to provide a challenge to all the children, the problems presented must have varying degrees of difficulty. These degrees should not be obvious, however, as a lack of confidence could be produced in a child who can do only the "easy" problems. The ability of a child should not be compared with that of other children (Montessori, 1965).

The child's reward for correct actions, in a hypermedia system, may be some entertaining animation and sound sequence. In computer games, the reward is more usually a good score or grade. Since, in a realistic problem, there Idea provides an electronic journal to allow the student to make notes relevant to a problem, and uses these notes to decide whether the student has selected the important facts, as this is one of the issues to be considered in assessing the student's performance. The student submits an answer by choosing from many possibilities. If any criteria for the solution are specified, then those criteria must be met. As well as this, a better than adequate solution is generally expected. A mark of one hundred per cent is awarded if the student has visited all relevant nodes, collected all the relevant facts by storing them in the journal, and submitted a better than adequate answer. Feedback on performance is given by a thermometer showing the score, a picture showing the outcome, and a star whose colour indicates how well the student has done. A numerical result has been avoided as it is undesirable that students compare their results with those of other students.

In general, the student is given some explanation as to how his solution could have been improved or why it fell short of the ideal. It is also desirable to point out to the student what skills have been used in solving the problem (Bork, 1987) so that the teacher can discuss this later with the students and generalise the lesson to include other situations. In a classroom situation, it may not be appropriate to make much use of sound, as it could be very distracting. The use of large amounts of animation and sound may also require that the software be run on hardware that is financially out of reach for many schools. For this reason, the current implementation of Idea does not include any sound or animation. It is intended that Idea be used in a classroom situation with a teacher available to help those students having difficulty and to discuss with the class, after they have solved the problems, what skills have been used in their solutions, alternative ways of solving the problems, and other real life problems in which these skills may be useful. Idea has been implemented for DOS machines with Microsoft Windows, and was produced using the authoring package GUIDE.


Adair, J. (1989). The art of creative thinking. London: Talbot Adair Press.

Bork, A. (1987). Compendium of bad but common practices in computer based learning. Learning with personal computers. USA: Harper and Row.

Cherk, L., Morris, N. and Valenti, R. (1989). Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? A mystery exploratory game. 1(1). USA: Broderbund Software.

Chuska, K. (1986). Teaching the process of thinking, K-12. Phi Delta Kappa Foundation Fast Back Series, 7-28. Bloomington, Indiana: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.

Culley, L. (1990). Girls, boys and computers. In Boyd, Barrett and Scanlon (Eds.), Computers in learning. England: Addison-Wesley.

Gore, K. (1988). Problem solving software to implement curriculum goals. In Reed and Burton (Eds.), Educational computing and problem solving, 171-177. New York: Haworth Press.

Greenfield, P. M. (1984). Mind and media, 86-166. UK: Fontana.

McMillan, T. (1990). Multimedia and education. Computer Graphics World, 68-72 (October).

Montessori, M. (1965). Dr Montessori's own handbook. New York: Schocken Books.

Nelson, T. (1980). Interactive systems and the design of virtuality. Computer Graphics World, 56-62 (November).

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas, 19-27. USA: Basic Books.

Authors: Dianne Hagan, Lecturer, Department of Software Development, Monash University, 900 Dandenong Road, Caulfield East Vic 3145. Tel: (03) 573 2240 Fax: (03) 573 2745 Email: dianne.hagan@fcit.monash.edu.au

Jason Lowder, Department of Software Development, Monash University, 900 Dandenong Road, Caulfield East Vic 3145. Tel: (03) 573 2629 Fax: (03) 573 2745 Email: jlowder@monu6.cc.monash.edu.au

Please cite as: Hagan, D. and Lowder, J. (1994). Hypermedia for creative problem solving. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 173-175. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/hj/hagan.html

[ IIMS 94 contents ] [ IIMS Main ] [ ASET home ]
This URL: http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/hj/hagan.html
© 1994 Promaco Conventions. Reproduced by permission. Last revision: 5 Feb 2004. Editor: Roger Atkinson
Previous URL 21 May 2000 to 30 Sep 2002: http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/gen/aset/confs/iims/94/hj/hagan.html