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Metacogntion in higher education

Illustration of a brain Photo courtesy of Sue Clark

One of the most beneficial aspects of self-assessment activities for post-secondary students is that it encourages the process of metacognition. Through this process students are able to better improve their learning strategies and reify knowledge; a useful skill for success in both higher education and professional careers.

Metacognition is the practice of “thinking about thinking”. In this process an individual analyzes, monitors, and regulates their thinking and learning processes in order to develop them more effectively. There is over 30 years of research examining the value of metacognition in higher education and the general consensus is that it improves the academic success of students.

There are a number of ways to encourage the practice of metacognition in students. One approach is to ask students to reflect upon the following at the end of term:

  • What strategies did they use for the course?
  • How did they prepare for examinations?
  • How did they approach the assignments?
  • Which strategies worked well and which ones didn’t?

The goal of this questioning is to encourage students to acknowledge their procedural study habits and evaluate they ways in which they could be more effective.

Another metacognitive approach, developed by Dr. Tanner at the San Francisco State University, is the “retrospective post-assessment.” Students are asked to record their preconceptions of the course material at the beginning of the term. At the end of the term students complete a self-evaluation to directly compare their current knowledge with what they believed at the beginning of the term. This allows students to directly observe their academic growth and reflect upon their learning strategies.

Another method is to have students compile a portfolio of all their work throughout a course. At the end of the term students to read over their work and write an analysis of their progression. This tactic is useful for keeping students focused on continually improving their academic strategies throughout the term.

Metacognition is a valuable skill that improves the lifelong academic and professional success of students. Having students reflect on their own approach to the coursework and study habits encourages them to take responsibility for their own learning. While metacognition is not a skill that may come naturally to students, introducing activities to practise and develop the ability will better prepare them for the remainder of their academic journey.

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About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and marketing strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also a part-time faculty member at Centennial College and serves on the board of the Canadian Public Relations Society.

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