Using Web Tools to Teach Metacognition

By Perry Samson
Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, University of Michigan

Since 2005 I have been designing, coding, and evaluating systems that use Internet devices to expand peer discourse in introductory science classes. Two systems have evolved. The first, LectureTools, began as a framework to research new methods for expanding in-lecture discourse by engaging students in text-based, image-based and simulation-based responder questions. The second was my attempt to rethink the design of on-line textbooks by making them more inquiry-based. Neither tool is presented as "the" solution on to how to integrate metacogitive training into class; both do, however, represent a framework in which new methods and approaches can be tested.

In-Class Tool: "LectureTools"

My original intention was to develop a web-based student response system (SRS). However, as students and instructors used LectureTools they offered ideas for how it could be made more useful and easier to use. The system evolved rapidly through ad hoc trials coupled with rapid prototyping.

Today LectureTools has evolved to provide a range of student response options. In addition, it allows students to take notes synchronized to lecture slides, draw on and save the instructor's lecture slides, pose clarifying questions that can be answered asynchronously during class or after class, and self-assess their understanding during lecture (see Figure 2). The latter aspect (region "D" in Figure 2) is an evolving effort to facilitate student introspection during lecture. While still a research tool, the concept is that students indicate their self-assessed "confidence" with the material being presented. In principle this allows students to mark parts of the lecture where they are less confident of their understanding and instantly get feedback on how the whole class is voting (the "confidence" bars update every few seconds). Moreover, the instructor also receives this information in real time and can use this information to revisit topics during lecture or subsequently.

Lecture slide presented in LectureToolsFigure 2. Screen shot from one pane of LectureTools showing (A) note-taking area, (B) question-submission button, (C) draw-on the instructor slide and (D) graph of students' self-assessment of "confidence" in understanding.

Sample screens from XamPREP Figure 3. Screen shot from XamPREP showing (a) presentation of one of the questions in a pre-lecture quiz, (b) feedback when the student answers correctly, and (c) additional feedback when the student indicates their level of confidence in understanding the question and answer.

Out-of-class Tool: "XamPREP"

One motivating reason I wanted to redesign the textbook was students freely admitted that a large majority rarely opened the book except during the week before an exam. This was especially true for students who had scored poorly on exams. My goal was to get students to read in concert with lecture and the mechanism I used to achieve this required a redesign of the textbook.

First, my redesigned textbook is delivered in an inquiry-based format, where I can easily select about ten multiple-choice questions before each lecture and assign them to be competed before lecture begins. As a student reads these questions he or she is directed to the place in the book where relevant information is presented. This model (1) strongly encourages students to review germane concepts before lecture and (2) focuses their reading on to the areas of the text that I consider particularly important. A hidden agenda is to provide a model for weaker students to instill more consistent and synchronized study habits.

At the same time, I wanted my online textbook to be more than just a textbook online. I wanted it to take advantage of the communicative power of the Internet by integrating tools for self-assessment and query. Figure 3a illustrates an initial screen in a pre-lecture quiz. Figure 3b illustrates the screen when the student gets the question correct. Notice it offers both the opportunity to self-assess their level of confidence in understanding the question and answer and a link to pose a follow-up question that is sent to a representative of the class (chosen by the instructor). Figure 3c shows the graph returned after entering a confidence factor in which the cumulative votes for the whole class are returned. These graphs are also available to the instructor, who can review which questions elicited the lowest confidence and can choose to use this feedback to guide lecture discussion.