Carnegie Mellon University
June 28, 2018

Faculty Symposium Discusses Metacognitive Strategies To Improve Student Learning

By Emily Payne

Jocelyn Duffy

Faculty gathered in the Mellon Institute Social Room earlier this month for the MCS Summer Symposium. Originally organized by Department of Biological Sciences in 2013, the annual gathering has grown to welcome all MCS faculty to share best teaching practices and learn more about current topics in STEM education.

This year’s invited guest speaker was Saundra McGuire, director emerita of the Center for Academic Success and retired assistant vice chancellor and professor of chemistry at Louisiana State University.

McGuire has written two books and presented workshops at over 400 institutions in 46 states and nine countries centered on improving student learning by teaching students metacognitive learning strategies. She actively works with university faculty and students to increase their understanding of the application of cognitive science and learning theory to improve student academic performance in the classroom.

Metacognitive learning strategies encourage students to become more conscious of their thinking and mental processing — to go from memorizing material to more deeply understanding what they are learning. To do this, McGuire introduces her audiences to more effective homework, reading and learning strategies that emphasize how to properly review class material, work through problems and apply the material beyond the end of the course.

Before the faculty symposium, McGuire shared these strategies with a group of about 50 Mellon College of Science students in the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion. The following day, McGuire equipped MCS faculty with the same knowledge she gave to students. It’s equally as important, she says, for educators to learn these metacognitive strategies so they can more effectively help their students succeed. Her full presentation is available here.

The day wrapped up with faculty spotlight talks from featured guests in each department. The goal was to share what strategies they use in their own teaching that could be useful for others. 

Mohamed Bouaouina, assistant teaching professor of biological sciences
“Applied Cell Biology”

Mohamed BouaouinaBouaouina spoke about the new sophomore lab course that he developed and introduced in CMU-Qatar during the 2018   spring semester. Applied Cell Biology provides students with an immersive lab experience, including hands-on work running   experiments and collecting, analyzing and presenting scientific data. Working with the Eberly center, Bouaouina conducted a   comparative study, which showed that this applied lab significantly helps reinforce biological concepts seen in the cell biology   lecture course, in addition to equipping students with new lab skills.

David Yaron, professor of chemistry
“Three Challenges in Introductory Chemistry: What We've Tried and Lessons Learned”

Dave YaronYaron’s talk summarized efforts to address three learning challenges found in introductory level courses. The first challenge is   identifying and addressing expert blind spots, which are ways of thinking that are so intuitive to instructors that they fail to   provide explicit instruction to students. The second is helping students move beyond shallow problem-solving approaches by,   for example, having students use a virtual lab to design and interpret their own experiments. The third, and perhaps most   challenging, is finding ways to meet to needs of students with widely varying background preparations for the course.

Jason Howell, associate teaching professor and director of undergraduate studies, Department of Mathematical Sciences
“Engaging Students in Undergraduate Mathematical Sciences Research”

Jason HowellHowell spoke about how to more effectively involve mathematical sciences’ students in undergraduate research, which can be   a challenge, as many research problems require significant background knowledge and mathematical sophistication. One way   to introduce students to the skills they will need to undertake mathematical research is to require students to complete a   course project in an entry or intermediate level math course. By doing this, Howell says, students can learn about applications   of mathematics in the real world and develop skills such as how to conduct a literature review and how to communicate   technical ideas to a larger audience.

Diane Turnshek, special lecturer, Department of Physics
“Stellar Finds in Astronomy Education” 

Diane TurnshekFor many students, Turnshek’s introduction to astronomy course is the only science course they take. Her job, she says, is to   give students an understanding of the scientific process, show them the universe is knowable and feed their sense of   wonder. Turnshek’s discussion introduced a variety of teaching tools she uses in the classroom that help her do this. For   instance, she uses a slew of free resources, including the OpenStax Astronomy textbook, downloadable data sets from the   Sloan Digital Sky Survey and SkyServer, and an interactive video game called At Play in the Cosmos. She also finds guidance   through the Center for Astronomy Education and uses IF-AT sheets as an active learning technique to make sure students are   understanding the material.