Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Metacognitive behaviours in Australia

by Susan Smith

I have been in Australia at the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning held in Melbourne.
I have also been part of the International Collaborative Writing Groups  and we met prior to the conference for a couple of days of structured activity to plan a research project and a series of papers about student metacognition and learning transfer. I wanted to share some of our thoughts about our metacognitive endeavours.
Eight groups were part of the ICWG. The groups formed in May and met virtually over the summer to focus their topics and develop an outline prior to the face-to-face meeting this past week. Our group’s topic was The Student Learning Process, and we focused our efforts on how metacognition would support the transfer of learning from one situation or context to another. We believe the transfer of learning is one of the ultimate goals of education because it supports lifelong learning and employability.
The group’s work on how metacognition supports the transfer of learning will be revealed when it’s published, but meanwhile, we will share some ways that metacognition was part of our experience of facilitating the group. Here are some pictures The first shows our group working: from left to right, Lauren Scharff, U. S. Air Force Academy, Susan Smith (Leeds Beckett University, UK), Lucie S Dvorakova (Honors Student, University of Queensland, Australia), Marion Tower (University of Queensland), Dominic Verpoorten (IFRES-University of Li├Ęge, Belgium), Marie Devlin (Newcastle University, UK), and Jason M. Lodge (University of Melbourne, Australia), [John Draeger from SUNY, Buffalo State University, is taking the pic]. The second gives you a sense of the overall setting, showing multiple groups all kept to task by ICWG coordinators, Mick Healy (University of Gloucestershire, retired) and Kelly Matthews (University of Queensland).

We defined metacognition as the intertwined awareness (self- monitoring) and self-regulation of a process/skill, specifically with the goal of developing that process or skill. We actually noticed our group were using metacognitive behaviours ourselves in some aspects of our work- particularly in our assumptions, the use of language and relating to the breadth of the project.
Assumptions about education: Our discussion revealed differences in the structures of the university systems in different countries. When discussing how students might use their learning in one course to inform their learning in another, the two North Americans on the team tended to think about transfer learning between a diverse set of courses across a broad liberal arts core curriculum in addition to transfer across more closely related courses within a major. Because undergraduate education in Australia and the United Kingdom tend not to be structured around a broad core curriculum, members of the team from these countries tended to focus on transfer learning within a particular field of study.
Use of Language: Given the international character of the group, self-monitoring and self-regulation allowed us to navigate differences in language and underlying assumptions. For example, through our discussions, we learned that academic faculty might be referred to as ‘staff,’ ‘tutor,’ ‘instructor’ or ‘professor.’ Individual courses might be referred to as ‘classes,’ ‘modules’ or ‘units’ of study.
Management of Project Scope: Both transfer of learning and metacognition are vast areas of study. Given the wide variety of experiences and individual interests in our group, we explored a wide array of possible directions for our paper, some of which we decided we would table for follow-on papers (e.g. how student level of intellectual development might impact transfer of learning and the creation of a “toolkit” for instructors that would help them support transfer of learning). Moving the conversation in fruitful directions required that all of us remain mindful of the task at hand (i.e. working towards a 6000-word article). Self-monitoring allowed us to detect when an interesting discussion had gone beyond the scope of our current article and self-regulation more quickly brought us back to the task at hand.
The international character of the writing group added a depth and richness to the conversation, but it also increased the likelihood of misunderstanding and the challenge of group management. Self-monitoring and self-regulation allowed us to overcome those challenges.