Metacognition, defined as the knowledge and regulation of one’s own cognitive processes, is critically important to student learning and particularly instrumental in problem-solving. Despite the importance of metacognition, much of the research has occurred in controlled research settings such that much less is known about how to help students develop metacognitive skills in classroom settings. Further, there are significant bodies of research on the role of metacognition in writing and solving math problems, but little work has been done on the role of metacognition within engineering disciplines. Metacognition is particularly important in the training and development of engineers as problem solvers.
The purpose of this project is to generate transferable tools which can be used to teach and evaluate undergraduate engineering students’ metacognitive skills. To accomplish this, we are working through a three-phase project in which we pilot a metacognitive intervention in one context, translate the intervention to a new context, and share the intervention and provide training on how to use it. This paper reports on the outcomes from Phase 1, which is focused on the development and pilot implementation of metacognitive interventions for a sophomore engineering course at a small undergraduate-focused engineering school and assessing student’s metacognitive development. The intervention made up of six modules containing paired training videos on metacognitive knowledge and awareness, contextualized in-class activities, and metacognitive assignments that provide opportunities to practice metacognitive regulation. In Phase 2, we will use the research outcomes from Phase 1 to revise the intervention and translate it to a second engineering education context, a freshman course at a large comprehensive state land-grant university.
We measure students’ metacognitive development through pre- and post- interviews and surveys, that is, early in the term and late in the term after most of the interventions, and through analysis of students’ responses on post video questions, in-class activities, and metacogntive assignments. The assignments are designed to promote student metacogntive awareness and help them practice metacognitive regulation.
Our initial analysis of the data demonstrates several themes. While students seem to have more sophisticated views of what learning is, e.g., being able to apply knowledge to new or real-world problems, the strategies they rely on do not promote such deeper learning. In the pilot course they primarily rely on example, practice, and homework problems. Many students also reference reviewing their notes. These are rehearsal strategies focused on memorization of particular solution processes and pattern matching. This sets students up for an illusion of comprehension where they confuse familiarity with understanding. As students work on problems they are committed to working alone or at least first working problems on their own before checking or seeking help. This is a positive approach, but perhaps is confounded by poor monitoring strategies that do not accurately assess their real understanding. Students show movement to more elaborative and organizational study strategies, which promote deeper learning, in their responses to intervention assignments.
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