A faculty-run panel on metacognitive skills and development was held on Wednesday, April 19, where faculty and students were invited to learn about learning. Attendees sat at round tables and were encouraged to share their experiences with each other as students, faculty and members of the administration.
The event, entitled “Thinking About Students’ Learning: Metacognition Across the Disciplines,” featured five Hofstra professors of varying disciplines from writing and engineering, to biology, law and psychology. Faculty members shared their current or developing research on metacognition while commenting on its importance to student success.
“The simple definition is often that [metacognition] is simply thinking about thinking,” said Amy Masnick, a professor of psychology. “So instead of simply the facts and understanding, it’s a reflection on your thinking.”
She went on to describe the discipline-specific nature of learning metacognition. Metacognition as a set of skills is not easily transferable across disciplines. Instead, it is most helpful when learned through a specific discipline. “There’s a lot of benefit to teaching metacognitive skills within the context of a discipline,” Masnick said.
The first discipline, writing, was presented by Jennifer Rich, a professor of writing studies and composition, who talked about writing as a metacognitive activity.
“Writing is not natural. It is the result of some reflective activity,” Rich said. “Writing is a process and a product. As both, writing is thought through before its creation and reveals its own thinking process. As a product, it is more durable. It resists ethereality and its permanence makes it workable and reworkable.”
The results of research on metacognitive skills in the engineering department was presented next by Saryn Goldberg, a professor of engineering.
Goldberg’s research put into practice the necessity of question formulation described by Rich.
Jessica Santangelo, a professor of biology, talked next about the deficit in metacognitive skills that hinders students coming to college.
“There are many students who struggle with the transition from high school to Hofstra,” Santangelo said. “Unlike in high school where some students can make As and Bs and be very successful with a simple ability to remember and understand information, in Bio 12 and other courses at Hofstra, we expect students to be able to apply information. To do that successfully requires a whole suite of learning strategies, and many of these students were never challenged to develop these in high school and then they struggle.”
Lastly, Jennifer Gundlach, a clinical professor of law and the senior associate dean for Experiential Education, talked about a similar lack of metacognitive skills among students coming from undergraduate to graduate school.
“They’re coming to law school and they don’t have metacognitive skills,” Gundlach said. “Encouraging law students to think about how they think better prepares them for the higher-level skills that we need them to display as lawyers. We need them to be able to use that professional judgment to analyze, to synthesize, to take one set of facts and think about how it’s different from another set of facts, to apply law to new sets of facts.”
Afterwards, a brief question and answer session was held. The panel was asked about the lack of metacognitive metrics in the admissions process, like the SAT’s inability to measure metacognitive capacity.
Kristin Weingartner, a professor of psychology, helped bring together the multidisciplinary faculty panel represented at the event.
“To say that I organized the panel is a huge stretch,” Weingartner said. “I simply introduced faculty from multiple disciplines who were asking similar questions, about best practices for improving students’ metacognitive skills. The product of their hard work was a thought-provoking and engaging discussion. I look forward to continued dialogue about these important questions.”
While attendance was mostly made up of faculty and administration, students who did go expressed interest in metacognition’s role in their success during and after college.
Mia Wajnrajch, a sophomore psychology and criminology double major, said, “I thought the metacognition event was really interesting, I liked seeing how different topics like psychology and engineering viewed the same idea. It was intriguing to hear how important metacognition is in our educational career, and how even those who are in graduate school and are advanced still struggle in metacognition.”