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CCCC 2014 Reviews

C.13 “Toward Authentic Student Learning Assessment in General Education: Encouraging Metacognition through Faculty Development, Quantitative Reasoning, and E-Portfolios”

Reviewed by Joel Wingard, Moravian College (wingardj@moravian.edu)

Chair: Paul Hanstedt, Roanoke College, Lexington, VA

Speakers:
Dominic DelliCarpini, York College of Pennsylvania, PA, “Re- covering the ‘Teaching’ in Teaching and Learning: Enhancing Faculty Metacognition through General Education Assessment and Reform”
Patrick Bahls, University of North Carolina, Asheville, “Toward Authentic Assessment of Authentic Learning: Measuring Quantitative Literacy through Reflective Writing”
Paul Hanstedt, Roanoke College, Lexington, VA, “E-Portfolios, Metacognitive Writing, and the ‘Whole Student’”

This session reported on efforts to assess student learning in general education curricula at two small colleges and one campus of a large state-university system. The audience numbered about 25 people.

Speaker #1 was Dominic DelliCarpini of York College of Pennsylvania. He began with the reminder that assessment is done primarily for what it can reveal about student learning, and he added that he would report briefly on a faculty development effort at his institution that has tried to assess teaching as an important means to the end of student learning: improved teaching, he reasoned, would lead to improved student learning. The stress of this faculty development effort has been on metacognition – for teachers as well as for students – because knowing about one’s learning is important to full understanding. He noted what he called a generative question about general education outcomes and assessment: “What do we want from our students?” Two possible answers are that we want students to accept the methodologies of a disciplinary field or that we want student to understand those methodologies as valid and reliable for that field. He said that his home institution, as part of faculty development a cross-disciplinary conversation has been going on about methodologies, seen as “threshold concepts”: key issues in a discipline, yes, but also areas of challenge for students, especially when they encounter these concepts in general education courses. For students who struggle with “mastery” of these concepts, metacognition is crucial to their understanding: students have to identify their “stuck points” with threshold concepts in order get beyond acceptance to understanding. And while it may be easy for faculty to recognize gaps in students’ metacognition, what may not so easily be seen is faculty encountering similar gaps. So a faculty development effort that focuses on metacognition should have benefits for both teachers and students. Because the speaker’s institution has a required general education course in “disciplinary perspectives” that is more about methodology than content, they have launched a faculty development effort to measure and improve faculty’s metacognition of their disciplinary perspectives. This effort has featured informal discussion sessions where faculty from across the disciplines can talk and reflect on how they have learned the perspectives and conventions of their own disciplines, in the process becoming more metacognitively aware and thus better able to work students through “threshold concepts.”

Speaker #2, Patrick Bahls of the University of North Carolina-Asheville, introduced himself as a mathematician who also directs his campus’s general education program. Across the several campuses of his state’s public university system, there was money available for assessment, and his campus wanted some data that were “messier” than that provided by surveys and other indirect measures of learning. This desire led to the institution of an e-portfolio requirement in the general education curriculum. In this context, he described activities in three STEM courses – one math, one physics, one interdisciplinary – at his campus that promoted metacognition on the part of students. These activities involved applying course concepts to real-world situations, in the process of which, the speaker said, students would not only learn the concepts better but would also have the chance to study this learning, inasmuch as they would have to explain disciplinary concepts to a lay audience.

The third speaker was Paul Hanstedt of Roanoke College. He reported on an effort in the general education program at his institution to use metacognitive writing and e-portfolios to educate “the whole student,” but he wound up questioning whether “the whole student,” whatever that might consist of, might be out of reach of even the best intended assignments, that even good assignments might engage the student’s brain, but not necessarily their emotions or spirituality. At any event, he offered as the key factor in real learning through writing is enabling the student writer’s sense of authority and agency with regard to whatever the subject of the writing may be. The student has to develop not only knowledge of the subject and awareness of disciplinary conventions, but also a sense of their right to write and speak on the subject. He said that e-portfolios used in combination with other “high-impact” practices – such as first-year seminars, study abroad, undergraduate research, internships, and others – can be effective in developing metacognition and a young writer’s sense of authority with respect to their own learning. This happens because portfolios involve the student in constructing a self to present to the world along with the writing the portfolio contains. To try to extend this to the whole student, he said, we have to ask whether e-portfolios or any other high-impact classroom practice can encourage the development of a student’s sense of authority vis á vis the world they live in, if they can promote the student’s right to engage with public issues that affect their lives. In offering these questions, the speaker did not mean to suggest a negative answer to them; rather, he said these were important matters that assessment of students’ cognitive learning might not be able to reach.


CCCC 2014 Reviews


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