Metacognitive Skills and the Faculty

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by Dave Westmoreland, U. S. Air Force Academy

While I applaud the strong focus on student development of metacognitive practices in this forum, I suspect that we might be overlooking an important obstacle to implementing the metacognitive development of our students – the faculty. Most faculty members are not trained how to facilitate the metacognitive development of students. In fact many are not aware of the need to help students develop metacognitive skills because explicit development of their own metacognitive skills didn’t occur to them when they were students.

I teach at a military institution in which the faculty is composed of about 60% military officers and 40% civilians. Since military faculty stay for three-year terms, there is an annual rotation in which about 20% of the entire faculty body is new to teaching. This large turn over poses an ongoing challenge for faculty development. Each year we have a week-long orientation for the new faculty, followed by a semester-long informal mentorship. Despite these great efforts, I believe that we need to do more when it comes to metacognition.

For example, in my department there is a strong emphasis on engaging students in the conceptual structure of science. As part of this training, we employ the exercise that I described in a previous blog (Science and Social Controversy – a Classroom Exercise in Metacognition”, 24 April 2014). With few exceptions, our new faculty, all of whom possess advanced degrees in science, struggle with the concepts as much as our undergraduates. It seems that the cognitive structure of science (the interrelation of facts, laws and theories) is not a standard part of graduate education. And without a faculty proficient in this concept, our goal of having students comprehend science as a way of knowing about the natural world will fail.

What is needed within faculty development is a more intentional focus on how faculty can develop their own metacognitive skills, and how they can support the metacognitive skill development of their students. A recent report by Academic Impressions reveals that, while virtually all institutions of higher education proclaim an emphasis on professional development, more than half of faculty perceive that emphasis to be little more than talk. Only ~ 42% of institutions give professional development a mission-critical status, and actively support professional development in their faculty and staff (Mrig, Fusch, & Cook, 2014). Highly effective institutions are proactive in directing professional development to meet emerging needs – perhaps this is where an emphasis on metacognition will take hold.
To that end, it is encouraging to see the initiative for a research study of metacognitive instruction on our own Improve with Metacognition site.

See for the Call to Participate.


Mrig, A., Fusch, D, and Cook, P. 2014. The state of professional development in higher ed.

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