Research on Geoscience Students' Self-Regulated Learning/Metacognition and Affective Domain

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Authors: Karen S. McNeal, Auburn University; Kaatje Van der Hoeven Kraft, Whatcom Community College; Elizabeth Nagy-Shadman, Pasadena City College; and Mary Beck, Valencia College

Jump Down To: Grand Challenge 1 | Grand Challenge 2 | Grand Challenge 3 | Grand Challenge 4 |


When we think of learning, we commonly focus on the content. However, it is how individuals navigate that content through their affect (emotional response) and their ability to self-regulate: motivations, interests, and 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 (for example, Pintrich & Zusho (2007); Zimmerman (2001); Schraw (1998)) what we are still trying to determine is what this looks like for the geosciences. There is clear evidence that the same factors that impact student learning in general are also appropriately applied to geoscience contexts (Lukes & McConnell (2014), what we still need to learn is how specific skill sets within the geosciences, for example spatial reasoning, working through deep time and space may impact one's ability to navigate content and how that can be enhanced by self-regulation, affect and metacognition. In addition, what this looks like may be different with different populations and contexts. We also need to better determine how we can support faculty in supporting student development of these skills and capabilities.

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 expert-novice continuum?

Rationale:Part of preparing students for careers and social/civic involvement after college, as well as contributing to students' academic success, is helping them acquire and hone skills beyond academic and technical skills. Students need adequate "soft skills" that help them succeed when working in teams, communicating information, and managing their own and others time and effort. In addition, acquisition of these transferable skills is critical in helping students advance along the novice-expert continuum.

Strategy: Identify the skills that are used by different populations along this continuum, identify ways to support development of those skills for students, and assess implementation tactics.

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?

Rationale: 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 in order to effectively learn the geoscience content. In addition, there are barriers that exist within the classroom and the institution that need to be identified in order to develop strategies to support students in learning and developing and maintaining interest. What these strategies are as a result of these barriers may look different with different populations and contexts.

Strategy: Identify strategies that are most successful and barriers that prevent engaging a diverse student population or are more effective with specific populations; measure the impact of these strategies on student learning.

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?

Rationale:There currently exists established methods, tools, and instruments within and outside of the geoscience education community (e.g., educational psychology, science education, other discipline based education fields, and cognitive science) for measuring affect and metacognition. The GER field should leverage and build on these approaches and apply them to the specific learning needs of students as they are engaging with geoscience content and developing skill sets within the variety of geoscience learning settings. Both research grade approaches and tools as well as classroom level assessments for instructor use should be targeted.

Strategy: Need to explore literature and expertise from other fields outside geosciences to ensure we are using the most valid, reliable, and up to date instruments, techniques, and methodologies. Need to test these instruments and methodologies within the context of the geosciences.

Grand Challenge 4. Educators:How 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?

Rationale: Faculty guidance is vital for coaching students to be self-regulated learners. In order for Challenges 1 and 2 (above) to be implemented broadly and successfully, instructors must be knowledgeable and comfortable using classroom strategies related to affect, metacognition, and self-regulation of learning. With these skills at their fingertips, members of the geoscience community will be a valuable resource for students who are not familiar with (or even aware of) strategies to take control of their own learning. Dissemination strategies can include faculty development, such as face-to-face workshops and webinars, and published research studies that focus on adoption strategies in various learning environments. Barriers to helping instructors learn about these strategies can be psychological (instructors' resistance to change/lack of interest), institutional (lack of support to make changes by administrators), and logistical (no time/funds to attend PD workshops).

Strategy: Determine the relationship between attitudes and adoption across different members of the community (practitioners and administrators) from those that represent both formal and informal learning environments. Take inventory of faculty professional development programs inside and out of the geosciences that have been successful in employing pedagogical contexts and approached.


This working group (WG9) has connections with WG5 (underrepresented groups), WG8 (Instructional strategies in different settings and technology), WG10 (professional development). Links to industry are also likely as the development of student's "soft skills" (e.g., metacognition, affect, and self-regulation) may be desirable to future geoscience employees and could be further explored with the engagement of sector employers (e.g., industry, corporate, consulting, and NGOs).

Metacognition and Affective Domain -- Discussion  

This post was edited by Kristen St. John on Jan, 2018
1. I think it is important that this draft points out the value of students’ soft skills. Isn’t this also something that is raised in the Summit on the Future of Undergraduate Geoscience education? It would be nice to see this better connected to that document and to past GER community initiatives too. WG#4 took this approach in their intro, perhaps something similar can be done here?

2. I like that this draft broke the challenges into distinct categories; WG5 and WG7 did that too and I see how it is appropriate here as well.

3. Major comment: Compared to other WG themes, this theme is pretty brief, with few strategies offered and few citations (all of which are in the intro). I think the theme has a richer foundation than comes through here. I’d like to see it expanded and more references incorporated to support the GC rationales and strategies. Please see the references that were submitted in the working space. In addition some new work has come out too (e.g., the van der Hoeven Kraft review paper on Interest, JGE Nov 2017). For example, the rationale for GC#3 you state “There currently exists established methods, tools, and instruments within and outside of the geoscience education community (e.g., educational psychology, science education, other discipline based education fields, and cognitive science) for measuring affect and metacognition.” But what are some key references for these method, tools, and instruments? And are there other possible strategies for each of the CGs? It seems oddly thin by only having 1 strategy per GC.

4. Can you explain Figure 1? I don't really understand it. Is that part of the intro or part of GC#1? It needs a figure call out and a caption. Is the hypothesis included in it an example one or is it an overarching hypothesis for the whole theme?

5. Each GC should have its own set of references rather than all at the end. WG#2 is a good example for this.

6. See WG#4 GC#1: strategies focus on research about motivation.

7. WG#3 included some suggestions for important researchable questions under each of their Grand Challenges, in addition to their recommended strategies. That wasn’t a requirement in the format, but I think it is very effective. Please look at WG3’s draft chapter and see if you think that is a good way to go to help give more concrete examples of important research directions in metacog and affect.


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I like that “soft skills” are mentioned within Grand Challenge #1, but think it would be best if the term was clearly evident within the project goals. The term is placed too deeply within this theme and should be brought to the forefront. Perhaps the title of Theme #9 could be modified to explicitly include “soft skills”?


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I like GC#3! This is challenge number 1 in my mind. For a strategy, other GC groups recommended hosting conferences bringing these communities together around a topic. Could we bring ed psych and geo ed communities together around measurement?

GC#1-Building off of Dawn's comment, in GC#1 rationale, there seems to be a conflation of self-regulation skills and what are being called "soft skills." Both important and intersectional, but GC#1, as written, appears to be about learning/ways of thinking processes. It would be helpful to separate those--perhaps a grand challenge focused on how self-regulation and "soft skills" intersect and can be co-fostered. Similarly, adding the novice-expert continuum into the discussion here presents a distraction. Experts automatize skills (self-regulatory, metacognitive, or otherwise), thus making them "invisible" in self-reports and observational studies. I think as a community we are more interested/need to sort out the shift from novice-intermediate as this relates more directly to persistence issues. How can we identify and develop these early transitional levels of skills? Perhaps another grand challenge? Separating these aspects out will also make recommending specific strategies easier.

GC#4-Does Cathy Manduca's work measure this aspect in PD programs? Could that work be built upon to look at SRL specifically?

In broad faculty development literature, these barriers show up, also time and recognition to work on curriculum redesign is critical. There is this more macro issue of instituitional policy, and the separate micro issue of professional development around an individual's class. But perhaps that is what needs to be explored with identifying the relationship between attitudes and adoption.

The barriers outlined also all relate to Promotion and Tenure directly or indirectly. Perhaps an item focusing on connecting this effort to characterizing geoscience Promotion and Tenure programs nationally and looking at correlations between adoption and P&T recognition could be added?


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GC1: Similar to Dawn and Laura's thoughts, I was interested to see that this GC calls out "soft skills" such as teamwork and communication, in addition to self-regulation (and presumably metacognition). I am not as familiar with the literature in this area, but to my knowledge, communication and teamwork (and a wide array of other skills) have traditionally been considered as distinct from metacognition/SDL/SRL (though those skills underlie and impact acquisition and performance of communication etc.). Would it be possible to unpack your thinking a bit more here, elucidating the connections among those skills and clarifying why you've chosen to wrap "soft skills" into the metacognitive/affective domain?

GC2: The wording of your question seems as though you've chosen to focus on interest as the route to greater inclusion in geosciences, and I agree that that is a critical lever. However, I believe I've read work suggesting differential skill/preparation in metacognitive and self-directed learning skills and dispositions for first-generation college students, students from low-income backgrounds, and underrepresented minorities. To some degree, this may be attributed to the cognitive "bandwidth tax" of experiencing poverty, bias, etc., but to some degree it may also be due to differential preparation. Anyway, I'd be curious to read a bit more about why you've chosen not to go that direction and instead focus exclusively on interest.

GC4: Thanks for calling this challenge out! We know so much already about teaching, teaching science, and teaching geoscience that is not widely or consistently used, and that could make a tremendous difference to student access and success. WG10 is focused on those hurdles, but it will take a sustained community effort on all our parts to figure out ways to get research translated into practice and adopted throughout our discipline- including attending to the metacognitive and affective factors for instructor learning!


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Here are two links to articles from the Chronicle of Higher Education that made me think about the role of lectures, teaching technology, and the importance of the connections we make (however we make them) to our students that motivates them to learn - the things that maybe matter even more that following the "right" active learning method. It seems to raise points that get at some assumption we about about the value of lecture vs active learning: and I will share this with both the instructional methods working group and the self-regulated learning/affect working group


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