Research on Geoscience Students' Self-Regulated Learning, Metacognition, and Affect

Karen S. McNeal, Auburn University; Kaatje Van der Hoeven Kraft, Whatcom Community College; Elizabeth Nagy-Shadman, Pasadena City College; Mary Beck, Valencia College, and Jason Jones, North Carolina State University


When we think of learning, we commonly focus on the content. However, it is how individuals navigate that content through their affect (emotional response, attitudes, beliefs), their ability to self-regulate (which includes one's motivations and interests) and their metacognitive capabilities (ability to reflect on what they know, what they don't know and what they need to do to improve on those weaknesses) that ultimately determines whether and how they interact with the content. While research clearly indicates that the ability to self-regulate is critical for success in learning in general (Figure 1; for example, Pintrich & Zusho, 2007; Zimmerman, 2001; Schraw, 1998), we are still trying to determine what this looks like for the geosciences. In addition, while there is initial evidence that the same motivational and affective factors that impact student learning in general also apply to learning in geoscience contexts (Lukes & McConnell, 2014), much more needs to be explored. We still need to learn how self-regulation, metacognition, and affect can enhance (or inhibit) one's ability to navigate content necessary for specific skill sets within the geosciences (e.g., spatial reasoning). Findings might be different for various populations and in a range of contexts, and research in the geosciences needs to investigate these variations. We also need to better determine how we can support faculty in facilitating student development of these skills and capabilities.

Many of the questions researchers in the fields of education psychology, cognitive science, and science education still have about matters of self-regulated learning, metacognition, and affect are in direct alignment with the interests of GER. Some of these emergent lines of inquiry in these other fields can inform GER through the use of more-established theories and methodologies. The geosciences may be a unique context in which these questions can be investigated and the findings generated from GER researchers may be of interest to the broader learning science audience which, in turn, may provide GERs new dissemination outlets and interested audiences to publish and communicate their research findings.

Below, we articulate four Grand Challenges that highlight needed areas of research on self-regulated learning, metacognition and affect. These are organized around important ways in which these factors emerge in teaching and learning: in the development of student skills, in the support of a diverse population of learners, in the support of educators teaching these students, and in assuring that research on these factors is of the highest standards.

Grand Challenges

Grand Challenge 1: Student Skills: How do we support students in developing their ability to learn, regulate, and apply the skills and ways of thinking in the geosciences along the novice to expert continuum?

Supporting student success and preparing students for careers and social/civic involvement after college is an important aspect of the undergraduate teaching and learning experience. Integrating skill development beyond academic and technical skills, to include metacognition and self-regulation, is important in developing life long learners and expertise.

Grand Challenge 2: Inclusion: What are effective strategies in engaging a diverse population of students in their learning and sustaining their interest in the geosciences?

The geosciences have been known for having low numbers of underrepresented students participate and major in the field. In order to increase underrepresentation in the geosciences, and to assure success for all students, we must determine what strategies are most effective in engaging students and to effectively learn geoscience content.

Grand Challenge 3: Assessment: How can we measure student experiences in the geosciences through the lens of self-regulation, motivation and other components using the most cutting edge research technology and methodologies?

The GER field should utilize established assessment methods, tools, and instruments and build on the approaches that other disciplines (e.g., science education, psychology, learning sciences, etc.) have developed. Researchers should apply these methods and approaches to the specific learning needs of students within the variety of geoscience learning settings and contexts.

Grand Challenge 4: Educators: How do we support the geoscience community in learning and implementing classroom strategies that are known to be effective in supporting students affect, metacognition and self-regulation of learning?

Faculty guidance is vital for coaching students to be self-regulated learners. In order for Challenges 1 and 2 to be implemented broadly and successfully, instructors must be knowledgeable and comfortable using classroom strategies related to affect, metacognition, and self-regulation of learning.

Citation for this chapter: McNeal, Karen S.; Van der Hoeven Kraft, Kaatje; Nagy-Shadman, Elizabeth; Beck, Mary; and Jones, Jason (2018). "Research on Geoscience Students' Self-Regulated Learning, Metacognition, and Affect". In St. John, K (Ed.) (2018). Community Framework for Geoscience Education Research. National Association of Geoscience Teachers.

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