Introducing Metacognition in a Blended Learning Classroom

During the first quarter of the academic year 2019, I had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for the course Special Lecture: Introduction to edX Online Course Creation which is being taught by my advisor, Professor Jeffrey Scott Cross primarily to third-year undergraduate students under Tokyo Institute of Technology's Global Scientists and Engineers Program. In this course, I made a short presentation about the current trends in educational technology research, conducted a pilot study on my research (also, post: TBD), and presented a module introducing the class to metacognition.

What is metacognition anyway?
Metacognition, or thinking about thinking, is defined as the awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes. It is known to contribute to students’ academic performance and improve the students' growth mindset. Despite its benefits, metacognition is often neglected in class partly due to the difficulty of teaching it explicitly alongside the main subject area.

Why would I want to teach metacognition?
From late September 2018, I had been working on my Ph.D. research which is on developing a metacognitive tutor on online learning platforms. Needless to say, given that I chose this topic to work on for three years, I am very much convinced about the importance of metacognitive development not just among regular students but for everyone aspiring to become lifelong learners.  The downside is that I do not have any prior experience in teaching, let alone on a topic that can be challenging to impart. In my research, metacognition is being taught indirectly. Naturally, I am curious as to what will happen if students receive direct instruction on metacognition.

Class preparation and activities
The course ran for eight weeks between April and June with 17 undergraduate students enrolled. It is delivered in the blended learning format where lecture materials are made available online through edX Edge and facetime is dedicated to clarifying important points from the lecture materials and working on projects. It is essentially a project-based learning class, where the final project is a three-week online class created by groups of three to four students which they present to their classmates at the end of the course.

For the metacognition module, I created slides which I uploaded to edX Edge and discussed in class after we watched the video on metacognition from Smithsonian Science Education Center. The presentation included a question-and-answer at the end, and the students were asked to post in edX Edge's discussion forum about their personal metacognitive strategies as an individual assignment. Then the students were also instructed to add metacognitive components to their final projects. The quality of the metacognitive components added was rated using self-assessment, peer-assessment, and instructor assessment (me!).
Below is the lecture slides I created for the class.

Not bad for a first-time experience! I felt that the students were quite interested based on the questions they raised, and they were very participative and attentive during the lecture (they answered my questions, too!). This positivity extended through their discussion forum post assignment, where I asked them: How would you apply metacognition in your personal learning activities? Here are some interesting answers I got:
  • I apply "Think Aloud" strategy whenever I have to do a task which is new for me or which I am not very habitual to. Thinking aloud helps me to separate the problem which I have to solve now from various random thoughts going on in my mind. By speaking about that task to myself, I am able to focus on it better. I ask myself questions like what are the things that I need for it, what process I am going to follow etc. I have assessed that this strategy works for me as whenever I am stuck at something, talking to myself about it helps me in concentrating on that particular thing only so that I can put all my energy into completing that task.
  • Usually when I study, I do 'paraphrasing things I learned' in my own words either by writing it down or saying it out. That helps me learn and evaluate myself if I really understand it or not. Sometimes when I do group study, explaining things to friends also help me learn something. I know it works if I can explain the things I learn in my own words.
  • Everyday I try to reflect myself by questions what I have done today and why I did that. By those questions, I knew not only myself but also some reasons I need to study those subjects. It helps me not to get lost and shows the kind of my big map. I think this way is one of the metacognition method. I hope my way of thinking could help you in some ways.
And so much more.

The true test of learning interventions though is if those can withstand the test of time and circumstance. The students were required to do the individual assignments within the week after the class lecture was conducted, and it was not a very good opportunity for practical application. The final project, on the other hand, was not presented until after about three weeks. And this time, it is not enough for them to just think about what they had learned, the have to apply it. The students continued to amaze me! All their final projects are really well-thought of and well-executed. One group even created a program for adding in-video quiz on edX Edge for their metacognitive activity, which is not an easy feat! They were also able to give useful critique for themselves and for their peers, which honestly I did not teach them to (maybe Professor Cross did?).

These successes can all be attributed to the students. But how well did I perform? I asked the students to answer a survey evaluating their experience, and here is what they have to say:

Yay? Yay!

What did I learn, and what more do I need to learn
I learned how it is to work in the blended learning format, and I finally got to experience how it is to be a teacher! Though props to my advisor, there were a lot of "near-death" experiences for me in this course (not just for the duration of my lecture).

Guess I was able to make the classroom discussion engaging! I need to work more on making the lessons more fit for the time duration allocation. It seems the lesson is too dense it was a little bit hard to understand. And maybe I need to be a lot more professional (did the students sense that I feel like playing through?).

I presented a poster in our department to share my experience.
(This was also the first time I created an academic poster, so please feel free to send in your comments!)

Overall, this is something I can see myself wanting to do again. 😁😁😁