Tuesday, 24 March 2015

McCalla Professorship and learning philosophies

This year I was awarded a McCalla Professorship by the University of Alberta. So, for the next year I am carrying out a study that will investigate whether or not developing students' learning philosophies have an impact on their intellectual development and the learning outcomes for the first year biology course I'll be teaching in Fall 2015. Many of you have requested more information about the study, so I have posted below the rationale for the study that I submitted to the awards committee.


Developing Students’ Metacognition through Learning Philosophies:
Impact on Student Learning Outcomes
Neil Haave

"We do not learn from experience . . . we learn from reflecting on experience" - John Dewey

A McCalla Professorship will allow me to investigate whether developing students’ learning philosophy enhances their intellectual development and course learning outcomes.
While I was Divisional Registration Officer for Augustana in the 1990s, I met with students to discuss their programs and advise them which courses to take in the coming year. Their Program Planning Form nicely organized their courses into the different requirements for graduation. However, students seemed to view their education as a list of boxes to be checked. Students did not understand the overarching coherence in their major and general education requirements. Curricular coherence was present but Augustana never explicitly explained it to students. As a result students collected a pile of bricks without assembling them into a home1.
I subsequently served as Chair of Science for ten years and my accumulated curricular experience later enabled me to effectively chair the ad hoc core curriculum review committee which produced Augustana’s current core. We constructed a general education that met the breadth needs of our students, inculcated in our students the particular values held by the Augustana professoriate, and developed students’ communication, thinking, and research skills. In the late 2000s then Augustana Dean Roger Epp noticed that students displayed difficulties articulating their skills to potential employers. Similarly, I had noticed students having difficulty applying prior learning from pre-requisite classes. Students engaged in a learning cycle of memorize-regurgitate-purge as a result of not integrating their learning experiences into an interconnected and robust knowledge structure.
Dean Epp appointed me Associate Dean (Teaching) from 2010-13 to consider how to better engage students’ in their education so they could articulate their learning and skills to themselves and others. This resulted in the 2012-13 Augustana e-portfolio pilot during which I realized students were not asking questions about their own learning. I had inappropriately assumed that students were metacognitively engaged in their learning processes2.
During the e-portfolio pilot I began having my students consider the what, why, and how of their learning while they reflected on the artifacts they collected in their e-portfolio. Each of these questions metacognitively engaged students in their learning through development of their own learning philosophy3 enabling students to make connections among their different learning experiences in addition to their own personal lives.
Developing students’ metacognition has been suggested to improve students’ academic achievement2,4,5 possibly by developing students’ critical thinking6. A lack of metacognition has been correlated with students’ inability to assess their own knowledge and academic abilities7,8. Evidence exists that student learning outcomes may be improved by attending to metacognition through activities that use personal response systems9, in-class writing and discussion assignments10, and correlates with students’ mastery goals11. Long term benefits of using metacognitive prompts during students’ learning have been shown for primary and secondary school students12 but not for post-secondary students. Other studies have indicated that metacognitive prompts on their own, without cognitive prompts, have no impact on student learning outcomes13, and that their usefulness decreases as student skill increases14. In addition, one Australian study has shown that metacognitive and self-efficacy abilities are not correlated to student learning outcomes as measured by GPA15.
There are theories and practices that consider students’ intellectual development16, but the impact of developing students’ intellectual level has been assessed by considering general education learning outcomes (critical thinking, citizenship, intercultural competence, communication) not students’ understanding of their major subject, although this has been proposed to improve17. My proposal considers whether the development of students’ metacognitive ability through the creation of their own learning philosophy is able to positively impact students’ content mastery in a course. I will use AUBIO 111 – Integrative Biology I as my lab. My aim is to show that as students consider their own thinking and learning processes, they will also be engaged in the epistemology of science18. Thus, by performing the metacognitive task of asking themselves what, why and how they know something, they will also begin their intellectual development as scientists asking themselves how we know what we know about biology: what is our basis for the knowledge claims we make in biology? Thus metacognition about their own learning may aid their cognitive development as biologists and scientists.
My specific question is do first year biology students score higher on the Perry Scheme of intellectual development19,20 when they have produced a learning philosophy to develop their metacognition, and does this enhance their content mastery of the course as indicated by their course grade and exam results?
The research carried out will directly impact my own teaching and potentially the way that others teach. By guiding students in the development of their own learning philosophy my aim is to metacognitively engage students with course material at a deeper level and avoid the unengaged learning cycle of memorize-regurgitate-purge. Funds from the professorship will be used to hire undergraduate students who will aid in the organization and analysis of the collected data. The proposed research aligns with the University Academic Plan by attending to the student experience. By promoting students’ metacognition through the development of their own learning philosophy I hope to show that they more deeply engage in course material by moving them to a higher level of intellectual development as measured on the Perry Scheme as a result of a transformative learning experience21.

Proposed Project
In Fall 2015 I have the opportunity to teach two separate lecture sections of AUBIO 111 – Integrative Biology I. I will use these two classes to investigate the impact of developing students' learning philosophies on student learning outcomes as indicated by their general intellectual development and more specifically on their ability to understand the particular course content. The impact of the metacognitive exercises on student learning outcomes will be assessed by using a mixed-methods approach (a qualitative student self-assessment + quantitative effect on ability to answer final staged exam questions) comparing student understandings of their learning philosophy at the beginning and end of the course using an assessment index to determine students’ level of intellectual development22–24. One course section will encounter activities designed to explicitly develop their learning philosophy and metacognitive ability whereas the other will not. A staged question on the final exam and on a pre-test at beginning of term tiered according to Bloom’s taxonomy will determine if developing students’ metacognitive ability impacts their ability to perform at the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy of learning25. This will be compared to students’ metacognitive ability as mapped on to the Perry Scheme of learner developmen 19,20.
This study will thus answer two questions. Does developing students' metacognitive ability/learning philosophy impact their: 
  1. intellectual development as mapped by the Perry Scheme, 
  2. depth of learning the course content as mapped by Bloom’s taxonomy of learning.
1. Smith, B. L. (1998). Curricular structures for cumulative learning. In J. N. Gardner, G. Van der Veer, & Associates (Eds.), The Senior Year Experience: Facilitating Integration, Reflection, Closure, and Transition (pp. 81–94). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers.
2. Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How do students become self-directed learners? In How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (pp. 188–216). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
15. Zeegers, P. (2004). Student learning in higher education: A path analysis of academic achievement in science. Higher Education Research and Development, 23(1), 35–56.
20. Allen, R. D. (1981). Intellectual Development and the Understanding of Science: Applications of William Perry’s Theory to Science Teaching. Journal of College Science Teaching, 11(2), 94–97.
22. Moore, W. S. (1989). The learning environment preferences: Exploring the construct validity of an objective measure of the Perry Scheme of intellectual development. Journal of College Student Development, 30(6), 504–514.
23. Baxter-Magolda, M., & Porterfield, W. D. (1985). A new approach to assess intellectual development on the Perry Scheme. Journal of College Student Personnel, 26(4), 343–350.