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The adventures of Stu Dent in the land of metacognition September 1, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, teaching.
Tags: , , ,

As many of you know, I’m teaching a class this semester on academic skills for freshman engineering students.

In doing this, I attempted to pick topics I thought would be relevant to engineering students, and I consulted with several working engineers about what I should teach.

My first set of lessons revolve around metacognition: the students need to learn to think about how they think and learn.  (Yeah, it’s kind of recursive.)  This week’s lecture dealt specifically with learning styles.

Because I’m planning my own curriculum for the course, I also am on my own for coming up with lecture material.  I decided to start with Bloom’s taxonomy.  If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a way to organize thinking skills.  It’s a hierarchical structure, usually shown in the shape of a pyramid.

After that I went into learning styles as described on Richard Felder’s site.  The students had to take the learning styles inventory before class so that we could tally up the results.

Ironically, talking about learning styles is very…verbal.  I also know that attention tends to wane after about 10 minutes.

My approach (at least this time) was to make sure I finished talking about Bloom’s taxonomy within ten minutes.  I tried to relate different levels of the taxonomy to different levels in engineering education.  Roughly, the three lower levels often relate to the first couple years of a college degree.  The top three levels will be encountered more in junior and senior level courses.  And it turns out that those thinking skills relate to learning styles – some find the first couple years are easier (usually the sequential and sensing individuals) while others, like the intuitive and global thinkers, will find the last couple years easier.

Rather than gathering results for all of the scales at once, we could take results from one measure on the quiz, talk about it, and then go to the next.  They could zone out  for a little bit, but they seemed to want to see how their classes were skewed.

I also had a ‘prop’: I drew a stick figure, whom I named Stu Dent, to represent the different extremes on each scale.  Yes, it’s goofy…but some of the students actually seemed amused by my cartooning.  (You’ll see “Intuitive Stu” below.)  In one class, someone observed that I always had a thinking Stu on the right and a doing Stu on the left.  In another class, one student shouted, “You killed Stu!” when I erased one of Stu’s personalities from the board.

I think I got the information across.  (I guess I’ll find out when I get their assignments next week.)  Some students seemed bored, some were very involved.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my class with the largest percentage of active learners was very talkative and involved, while the class with the largest number of reflective learners was pretty much silent the whole time.  I did ask a couple students after class if they thought the info was useful.  Some seemed lukewarm while others were enthusiastic.

The one thing I did notice is that after nearly an hour, most of the students still seemed awake, alert, and paying attention.  That’s an indication, I hope, that the lecture was at least halfway compelling.



1. Vicki - September 2, 2011

Cherish, did you use the web form for the learning styles inventory? I can see some drawbacks for using this inventory for deaf students (the question about preferring diagrams to verbal explanations is a no-brainer), but I’d still be interested in the results.


mareserinitatis - September 2, 2011

Yes, that’s what I used.

The visual/verbal scale is a bit misleading. For everyone who is not blind, about 85% of our input is visual. What it means to be visual is that you prefer getting information from pictures and graphs. A verbal person will get a lot more from reading and discussion. For a deaf student, they can still be ‘verbal’, but their discussions and explanations would be signed rather than spoken.

I’m actually interested to see if there is a skew toward visual in deaf students. I think that out of about 90 engineering students, I had 3 or 4 who were 5 or higher on the verbal side. Probably a third of them were in the highly visual side 9-11.

I hope that clarifies things.


2. Fluxor - September 6, 2011

I find it amusing that such a class is even offered. What ever happened to the good old days of sink-or-swim? Kids are so pampered these days 😉 Actually, this stuff is quite interesting, although in practice, I still would have slept through class and crammed for exams.


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