Reflection, Motivation and Learning

Grant recipient: Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Department of Biological Sciences

Project team: Birgit Schwarz, research assistant

Timeframe: September 2014 to November 2016

Funding: $5,000

Course addressed: BISC 302W - Genetic Analysis Lab 

Final report: View Kathleen Fitzpatrick's final report (PDF)

Description: Learning out of context is of exceedingly limited value, yet students seem to memorize “information” in patchwork fashion, out of context and with little deep understanding. In BISC 302 the course goals include conceptual understanding of various genetic analysis principles, the application of these principles to novel situations, and improved scientific writing skills.  I am interested in how student motivation and reflective self-understanding can contribute to addressing the problem of contextualizing and understanding course material.

There is considerable literature that supports my hypothesis that reflection is a key part of learning. I have piloted the use of weekly reflection among students in several of my classes, and I have noticed a qualitative change in student attitude. I would like to gain an understanding of what predominantly motivates my students. I would also like to determine whether properly designed and implemented reflection exercises might improve student learning, metacognition, and retention. I am principally interested in whether better understanding of themselves as learners and the learning process can improve comprehension of course material.

I plan to pose questions to be answered weekly: these will include directing students to make deliberate connections between ideas within the course, to think about their own learning process and how best to foster their own approach, as well as how understanding of course content connects with other aspects of their lives. I hope that by guiding students to reflect on making connections between concepts that learning will be deeper and possibly more persistent.

The data collected will consist of a questionnaire (Schraw and Dennison, 1994) that measures metacognitive awareness among students. This will be done in class or lab as a pre and post assessment at the start and end of the semester. We will record and evaluate the reflection responses, and at the end of the semester we will ask for feedback on the reflection.

References: Schraw, G., & Dennison, R. S. 1994. Assessing Metacognitive Awareness. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 19(4), 460-475.

Questions addressed:

  • Does the level of student engagement with the reflection exercises correlate with academic performance?
  • Does the engagement with the reflection exercises change over the course of the semester?
  • What do students write about in their reflections?
  • Do students think that the reflection exercises improved their learning of the course content?
  • Is there an improvement in metacognitive understanding among students over the semester?

Dissemination: Informal dissemination to colleagues and possible short informational workshop through the TLC. Guidance to colleagues who want to implement a similar strategy.

Keywords: guide student experience and reflection; meta cognition; deeper learning; critical thinking; student motivation; improve retention; reflection exercises