What is Metacognition?
How does a learner recognize that they have learned something? Traditional educational systems usually determine an individual's extent of understanding with summative assessments. Additionally, many teachers use lower stake learning checks, generally referred to as formative assessments, to check student understanding before significant assessments. In either case, the teacher, not the student, is the central participant in evaluating learning progress. Alternatively, metacognition is a learner-focused evaluation of knowledge growth and may be the key to a more in-depth and lasting knowledge.1
Often defined as "thinking about thinking," metacognition is routine when learning new knowledge or skills. It's a higher-order thinking process where a learner considers strategies for approaching a learning task and evaluates their progress along the way. Metacognition manifests itself through metacognitive strategies, which seek to monitor learning activities and assess progress toward the learning goal.2 For example, after reading a textbook section about mole conversions, a learner may check her understanding by attempting to solve a sample conversion problem. If she is not able to solve the problem, she must determine the next step in her pursuit to understand mole conversions. She may decide to watch an instructional video on YouTube and then attempt to solve another conversion problem. After correctly answering a question, she can determine that she has met her cognitive goal of understanding mole conversions.
As with any other skill, metacognitive abilities are developed under the guidance of an expert. Chemistry is difficult to learn due to its abstract nature and emphasis on problem-solving, but more successful students also seem to demonstrate effective metacognitive strategies. Thus, chemistry instructors should facilitate metacognitive strategies while teaching the chemistry content.3
Metacognition in the Virtual Chemistry Classroom
E-learning has numerous advantages: it's cost-effective, offers students flexible learning schedules, and may improve education accessibility. At the same time, virtual learning environments tend to isolate students. Without face-to-face dialogue, it is challenging for teachers to elicit what students are thinking and lead them through higher-level learning processes.4 Nonetheless, education research increasingly adds to the list of productive metacognitive activities for virtual learning environments,5,6,7 and I'd like to share one of my favorites.
Student-Made Video Explanations Instead of Worksheets
Problem-solving practice in the form of worksheets or textbook problem sets are a staple in chemistry education; however, students tend to share answers or use online sources when completing problem sets outside the classroom.8 As a result, completed worksheets don't necessarily correspond with understanding. Moreover, worksheets do not prompt metacognition, providing little information on a student's problem-solving strategy. On the other hand, student-made videos may be a more effective means to increase comprehension and boost positive emotions in chemistry learning.9 So, I stopped collecting worksheets during virtual instruction; instead, students choose one question and recorded themselves explaining how to solve it. With this activity, students must engage in metacognition, evaluating the correctness of their answers, and carefully plan their problem-solving approach.
Figure 1: FlipGrid with student-created videos
I like to use FlipGrid (Figure 1) for this assignment because I can moderate video comments and set parameters. I set a strict time limit so that students are required to practice and rehearse a well thought out explanation. Additionally, I promote introductory videos where I explain the assignment and demonstrate the steps of the problem-solving process:
- What does the problem say/mean?
- What information is relevant to obtain the answer?
- How do you progress from the given information to the solution?
- How are the periodic table and other resources used to solve the problem?
Figure 2: The eariliest uploaded student-made videos receive more views than later videos
On the whole, students produce fantastic videos, and their mental process is unmistakable; however, there are a couple of limitations with the activity. For one, some students might imitate the first videos that are posted to the forum since those videos received far more views than later videos (Figure 2). Regardless, I think it might be beneficial for struggling students to watch other videos because, in the process, they are continuously taught how to solve challenging chemistry problems. Additionally, it takes more time to review student videos than to score a traditional worksheet because I must watch each video and respond with my own. However, videos provide a more detailed picture of student understanding, and I can give each student personalized feedback on their problem-solving strategy, addressing substantial misconceptions, like improper conversions factors, or smaller concerns like incorrect significant figures (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Instructor feedback on student-made video in FlipGrid
Chemistry instructors that encourage metacognition tend to foster more lasting student knowledge. Although metacognition activities can be challenging in virtual learning environments, student-made videos can enhance understanding and expose student thinking. I'd love to learn about more metacognitive activities for virtual learning, so please leave a comment and share your favorite!
- Livingston, J. A. (2003). Metacognition: An Overview.
- Flavell, J. H., & Resnick, L. B. (1976). The nature of intelligence. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Rickey, D., & Stacy, A. M. (2000). The role of metacognition in learning chemistry. Journal of Chemical Education, 77(7), 915.
- Arkorful, V., & Abaidoo, N. (2015). The role of e-learning, advantages and disadvantages of its adoption in higher education. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 12(1), 29-42.
- Kaberman, Z., & Dori, Y. J. (2009). Metacognition in chemical education: question posing in the case-based computerized learning environment. Instructional Science, 37(5), 403-436.
- Osman, M. E. (2010). Virtual tutoring: An online environment for scaffolding students’ metacognitive problem solving expertise. Journal of Turkish Science Education, 7(4), 3-12.
- Jordan, J. T., Box, M. C., Eguren, K. E., Parker, T. A., Saraldi-Gallardo, V. M., Wolfe, M. I., & Gallardo-Williams, M. T. (2016). Effectiveness of student-generated video as a teaching tool for an instrumental technique in the organic chemistry laboratory. Journal of Chemical Education, 93(1), 141-145.
- Watson, G. R., & Sottile, J. (2010). Cheating in the digital age: Do students cheat more in online courses?.
- Pirhonen, J., & Rasi, P. (2017). Student-generated instructional videos facilitate learning through positive emotions. Journal of Biological Education, 51(3), 215-227.