by Ed Nuhfer Retired Professor of Geology and Director of Faculty Development and Director of Educational Assessment, firstname.lastname@example.org, 208-241-5029
A simple concept for enhancing learning is to engage more of the brain in more of the students. “Interactive-engagement,” “collaborative/cooperative learning,” “problem-based learning” and an entire series of active learning pedagogies use the concept to optimize learning. Research shows that active learning works. While frequently espoused as “student-centered learning,” advocates frequently use the active learning terms to promote particular kinds of pedagogy as “student-centered.”
However, active learning is neither the only way to enhance learning nor is it usually as student-centered as advocates claim. Whether the design occurs by the course instructor or with an involvement of a more recent profession of “learning designers,” the fact is that the emphasis is on pedagogy and on student learning. As such, they are more focused on student learning than were older traditional methods of content delivery, but the reach to proclaim most learning-centered pedagogies as student-centered leaves a bit of a gap. Metacognition is the factor missing to help close the gap needed to make learning-centered practices more student-centered.
While pedagogy focuses on teaching, mindfulness focuses on knowing of one’s present state of engagement. Mindfulness develops by the learner from within, and this makes it different from the learning developed through a process designed from without. Metacognition is very student centered, and mindfulness could be the most student-centered metacognitive skill of all.
Because mindfulness involves being aware in the present moment, it can engage more of the brain needed for awareness by enlisting the parts of the brain concurrently distracted by our usual “default mode.” Operating in default mode includes thinking of imagined conversations, playing music inside of one’s head, unproductive absorption in activities in which one is not presently engaged, or thinking of responses to a conversation while not attending fully to hearing it.
Mindfulness receives frequent mention as a method of stress management, particularly when it enlists the parts of the brain that would otherwise be engaging in worrying or in preparing an unneeded flight-or-fight reaction. The need to manage stress by today’s college students seems greater than before. However, its value to student success extends beyond managing stress to enhancing cognitive learning through improving concentration and increasing the ability to focus and to improve interpersonal communication by enhancing ability to listen.
Mindfulness has its roots in Zen meditation, which laypersons easily perceive as something esoteric, mystical, or even bordering on religion. In reality, mindfulness is none of these. It is simply the beneficial outcome of practice to develop metacognitive skill. It is simple to learn, and measurable improvements can occur in as little as six weeks.
For blog readers, an opportunity to develop mindfulness is fast approaching on September 19, 2016, when Australia’s Monash University again offers its free massive open online course (MOOC) in mindfulness. Rather than gurus dressed in costumes, the instructors are psychology professors Drs Craig Hassed and Richard Chambers, who occasionally appear in ties and sportcoats. The course is immensely practical, and the two professors are also authors of a highly rated book, Mindful Learning, which is likely of interest to all members of this particular metacognitive blogosphere. Perhaps we’ll see each other online in Australia!
**This blog contribution is a short derivation from “Mindfulness as a Metacognitive Skill: Educating in Fractal Patterns XLVII” by the author and forthcoming in National Teaching and Learning Forum V25 N5.