Using Metacognition to Make International Connections


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by Lauren Scharff, PhD, U. S. Air Force Academy and John Draeger, PhD, SUNY Buffalo State

If you’re one of our longer-term followers, you’ll notice that this post is a bit different from others on our site. We just wrapped up a fantastic week in Melbourne, Australia working with six colleagues from around the globe, and we want to share some of our metacognition endeavors and reflections with you. This experience was part of the second International Collaborative Writing Groups  (ICWG) that is an affiliate effort for the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSoTL).

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. We’ll start with some pictures to set the tone. The first shows our group working: from left to right, Lauren, 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 Liège, Belgium), Marie Devlin (Newcastle University, UK), and Jason M. Lodge (University of Melbourne, Australia), [John Draeger taking the pic]. The second gives you a sense of the overall setting, showing multiple groups all kept to task by savvy ICWG coordinators, Mick Healy (University of Gloucestershire, retired) and Kelly Matthews (University of Queensland). Fortunately, Mick and Kelly also built in some social time for community building. The third picture shows our group at the Victoria State Library, left to right: Dominique, Sam, Marion, Sue, Marion, John, Lauren and Jason.

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How Metacognition Found Its Way into Our Facilitating Experiences

If you read the home page of this site, you’ll notice that we loosely define metacognition as the intertwined awareness and self-regulation of a process/skill, specifically with the goal of developing that process or skill. Although the site is focused on metacognition as it relates to teaching and learning, it can refer to any skill or process. Facilitating a group can be much like teaching, but it involves some additional processes that might more traditionally be linked to leadership and communication.

We noticed ourselves using metacognition in the following aspects of our work:

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.

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 (John and Lauren) 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.

As we drafted our text and created a survey that was to be used in four different countries, we each engaged in self-monitoring of the terms as the conversation was in progress and would regulate behavior accordingly. For example, someone would start by saying “I think that staff might…” but then quickly add “or perhaps you might say ‘professors.’” Similarly, we would use our newly developed awareness of the different educational structures to guide our discussion about how transfer of learning might be supported across all of our learning environments.

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.

In summary, 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.

Many thanks to our group members for a fantastic face-to-face experience, and we look forward to our continued exchanges as we finalize the paper and carry on with the follow-on papers.

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