Initial Publication Date: December 13, 2011

Faculty Learning

As noted above, the ACM-Teagle Collegium succeeded beyond initial expectations in helping faculty become more metacognitively aware. David Thompson's work exemplifies well the point about faculty learning. He reported that his early questions about the effects of cumulative testing on increasing students' ability to monitor their learning in Spanish classes prompted him to set up separate "control" and "intervention" sections of intermediate Spanish at Luther. Finding no correlation between cumulative testing and increased self-monitoring, he began introducing students to more explicit self-monitoring processes, including post-assignment and post-exam "wrappers," brief writing exercises that asked students to reflect on their learning process both before and after seeing their graded tests.

Again, Thompson's results were mixed; increased metacognitive skills, as measured by the Metacognitive Self-Regulation subscale of the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (Pintrich 1991), didn't necessarily lead to better learning of Spanish. But, as noted above, he discovered differences in the performance of his weakest students. Tracking metacognitive growth in first-year students and in the weakest test-performers gave Thompson a new focus in his teaching, which he will carry forward in a recursive cycle of new interventions and modifications.

As is true of most good SoTL projects, inquiries into student learning begat further questions and more reflection about the practice of teaching. Thompson learned that as a humanities scholar engaging in this kind of research, he needed to find more suitable methods; humanities approaches such as discourse analysis might serve better than control groups for shedding light on his questions. This realization was made possible in large part by the mix of peer and expert support provided by the Collegium, which offered the encouragement and framework for Thompson's initial foray into the literature of metacognition and the scholarship of teaching and learning.

Metacognition is a topic that has attracted increasing attention nationally, starting with the groundbreaking How Students Learn, and the ACM collegium offered some intriguing insights into how abilities in self-monitoring and awareness of the learning process can improve learning. The ACM-Teagle collaboration also delivered significant insights into how successful faculty development work can occur.

Quite simply, successful faculty development takes time, particularly if it involves work (like the scholarship of teaching and learning) with which faculty are not familiar. Successful projects are long-term, blending support and accountability. The Collegium project, initially funded for thirty months, was extended, as members of the group continue to collaborate on projects and discussions. Throughout the project, requests for project proposals, updates, and final reports kept participants focused and engaged—and provided opportunities for discussion and suggestions.

Faculty projects such as the Collegium on Student Learning also require collegial conversations nurtured carefully with appropriate support. All the faculty involved in this project engaged in common work, even though they came from disciplines ranging from classics to statistics and geology to music. In order to support this collaborative faculty work, as Rachel Ragland has written, the group reaffirmed the need for an "egalitarian ethic, substantive collegial interaction, and a supportive intellectual community that inspired and transformed teaching practices." Working together with agreed-upon goals around a common issue (in this case, student learning and metacognition) led to a natural progression of discussions concerning common practices inspired by issues raised by classroom practices. This collegial support was enhanced by the creation of small cohort groups of faculty members who worked closely together across disciplines and institutions.

Colleagues in institutions with a history of close collaboration through the consortium found a network of support and challenge, as well as a way to reduce the isolation that commonly characterizes faculty research. This isolation was further reduced through the use of a project website that allowed for sharing of relevant materials and resources and for continuing online conversations about work in progress. Finally, as several members of the group observed, metacognition itself became a fruitful concept for increasing the cohesiveness of the group.

Finally, the work initiated in the ACM-Teagle Collegium project signals a shifting attitude about who learns in college. As Gerald Graff noted in speaking about his Clueless in Academe, "We've gotten accustomed to a system in which the very few excel in school (and reap the rewards in the vocational world beyond) and the many stumble along and more or less get by, or get through, or fail. In some ways such a system suits us academics—it's not our fault if the majority stumble or fail, we can easily say, that's just the way it is; only an elite in any society is going to 'get' the intellectual club" (Warner 2003). Metacognitive interventions, this project suggested, may be an especially powerful tool in helping the "academically adrift" student find a way to get into the game, to become more aware of the kind of thinking that supports strong academic performance. And while that's not the whole answer to the problems of "limited learning" on our campuses, it's certainly something worth thinking about.