Metacognition and Cultural Diversity

Annia Fayon, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

I am a faculty member in the Department of Postsecondary Teaching and Learning (PSTL) in the College of Education and Human Development, UMN. The population in PSTL is more diverse than any department within CEHD. Engaging and teaching a diverse population requires a variety of methods that can only be developed when we, as educators, understand our students' thinking processes. To understand how to best teach diverse populations, we focus our research on how students' cultures, experiences, 'lenses' affect students' learning, and how our students are thinking. Our department is approaching these questions from 'multiple perspectives. One such perspective is through the teaching and assessment of our First Year Inquiry (FYI) course. Another perspective is provided from courses taught by the faculty from various disciplines within PSTL.

The First Year Inquiry course: As we are a newly formed multidisciplinary department CEHD and CEHD is now admitting first-year students, we have a unique opportunity to develop a new first year program for all incoming students. The first year program is completely integrated and includes a multidisciplinary first-year inquiry (FYI) course and learning communities. The FYI course is required for all incoming students and is team-taught by 3 Faculty from different disciplines within our department. All FYI lectures design content around one overarching question; students are then exposed to the exploration of that question from multiple perspectives. One of our expected student learning outcomes for this course is that students will be able to identify problems and recognize that all problems can be addressed from different perspectives. In order for students to achieve this outcome, they must first begin to understand who they are, and how their experiences, past and current, affect their thinking. To this end, the first year inquiry course requires reflective writing practices such as weekly journaling. The journaling is critical to both the student and teacher, providing insight to both the learning and teaching process.

PSTL1171 Earth Systems and Environment: In addition to participating in the FYI, I teach an introductory geoscience course. My main goal in teaching this class is to increase students' scientific literacy and critical thinking skills. Some of these goals can be evaluated by assessing changes in attitudes towards science. Over the last year, I have administered the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS; Adams, et al. 2006) instrument, modified for geology, to students enrolled in introductory geology courses (GEO1001 and PsTL1171) at UMN. This survey consists of 42 questions that measure students' pre- and post-course attitudes towards geology and physical sciences. GEO1001 is a large lecture course where the laboratory content is independent from lecture content. PSTL1171 is offered through the Department of Postsecondary Teaching and Learning; this course has smaller class sizes, and lecture and laboratory content are fully integrated. Overall, responses from all students surveyed show a positive shift in attitudes and confidence. However, the pre-course data for individual students from both classes show interesting differences. Students of color in PSTL1171 responded much more favorably in the pre survey for the following categories: Real World Connection, Physical Science general learning and Physical Science learning confidence. Demographically, students of color comprise 23% of the student population in GEO1001, in contrast to 73% in PsTL1171. Students of color in PSTL1171 are predominantly immigrant and first generation college students. The fact that these students responded more favorably to the above categories before the class indicates a greater sense of awareness for the sciences and their learning capabilities. The question now becomes how do cultures promote positive attitudes and thinking about learning.

In an increasingly diversifying population, addressing such questions is becoming more important in order to become more effective in our teaching practices.


Adams, W.K., Perkins, K.K., Podolefsky, N. S., Dubson, M., Finkelstein, N.D., and Wieman, C.E. (2006) A new instrument for measuring student beliefs about physics and learning physics: the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey. Physical Review Special Topics, Physics Education Research 2(1), 14 pp.