Improving Learning with Metacognition
Do you remember the first time you taught online? What have you learned about online teaching since that first experience, and how have these lessons shaped the way you teach today? Engaging in questions like this is referred to as metacognition, the act of thinking about one’s own cognitive processes and reflecting on one’s own learning. When teaching an online class, a metacognitive approach to instruction can help students manage their learning more independently by helping them to identify goals and monitor progress towards achieving these goals. Instructors can apply the same approach to learn and grow as educators. To experience the benefits of metacognition, engage in a reflective writing activity like the example shared below. The concept is simple–write a letter of advice to yourself when you were in your first year of teaching. As you write, reflect on how you have grown as a teacher, and cite specific examples that demonstrate your progress.
Dear New-Online-Instructor Me, You have no clue what is about to transpire in your teaching career. You embarked upon this online teaching experience voluntarily, but now that it’s here, you are intimidated—you realize how little you know about teaching students physically separated from you. As you peer with trepidation into the big, empty course shell, you feel like you’re in over your head. As you start building your online class, you will find yourself typing all of your lectures and posting them as documents anchored with some discussion activities. These documents and discussions constitute an online class for you—after all, this is the only model of an online course you’ve seen. A year ago, you completed an instructional skills workshop that taught you how to create measurable learning objectives. This will be your saving grace as you develop your online class. You will realize that when students’ learn at a distance, their success hinges upon your clearly communicated objectives. Soon you will learn that teaching does not mean you have to create all the content; you don’t always have to be in control. Once you discover web 2.0, your students will become the content creators. You’ll experiment with new tools and pedagogies that generate ideas for learning activities that were never imaginable in a face-to-face classroom. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Learn from your mistakes. Ask your students for feedback—frequently—and listen to every single word they say. When you begin teaching with VoiceThread, you will find the visually centric learning space that you’ve been seeking for your art appreciation activities. But you have also found a tool that allows your students to communicate in voice and video rather than text only. And your students can hear you and see you! Soon after you start using VoiceThread, you will listen to one of your students interpret a painting in her own voice, rather than typed in a discussion post. In this moment, you’ll realize something very important about yourself as a teacher. To be a passionate, engaged online instructor, you need to hear your students. You need to have humanized interactions (beyond text-based discussions) to foster deeper social and cognitive connections with your students. Once you make these connections, you’ll view technology as a tool to make learning more personalized. You’ll value an online class for being unique rather than trying to make it like your face-to-face classes. And you’ll make your class your own. Hold on and enjoy the ride. Sincerely, Experienced Online-Instructor Me, ten years later
What advice would you share to your new-online-instructor self? In honor of Faculty Appreciation Month, write a brief letter in the comment box below, or share a link to your letter on your blog. We can learn a lot from each other through this experience!