How do you go about supporting students in your classes? Your students will be more successful if you use a logical course structure, provide transparent instructions and resources, and encourage metacognitive thinking.
In a 2001 study, Eric Hobson found that the two most important influences on student motivation are the instructor’s attitude and the course structure (McGuire, 2015). A clearly organized course that guides students chronologically, makes material easy to find, offers multiple ways for students to demonstrate learning, and makes expectations transparent will increase students’ chances of success.
Communicating the rationale behind your choice of content, your assignment design, and the course structure itself has been shown to improve student retention, grades, and learning outcomes (Winkelmes et al., 2016; Ou, 2018). A group of instructors at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas redesigned four assessments to make them more transparent. They found that indicating the learning outcomes, the skills students would use, the steps they should follow, and the grading criteria increased students’ motivation to complete assignments (Winkelmes et al., 2015). Notably, they also discovered this increased clarity was particularly beneficial to underserved students.
It is especially critical to provide intentional support to students in online courses. When teaching in person, you probably guide students throughout each class period. You may tie up loose ends from the previous class at the start, introduce new material, direct in-class activities, and explain upcoming assignments at the close. All the while, students can raise their hands with questions or request clarification.
When teaching online, however, you are less immediately available. If your Carmen course lacks explicit guidance, students will be left to “sort out” your expectations. They must email you questions and await your response. They might make incorrect assumptions about assignments that lead to poor quality submissions. They may fail to see the purpose of the course material and become disengaged.
In 2001, Bloom’s Taxonomy was revised to include a new category for metacognitive knowledge, or awareness of one’s cognition and the ability to self-monitor, self-regulate, and self-control (Krathwohl, 2002). The inclusion of this new category followed decades of research demonstrating that learning about the way we learn positively impacts academic performance. Evidence shows that the use of metacognitive techniques in test preparation and study strategies results in increased exam scores, a more positive attitude toward learning, and the ability to transfer information to new contexts (Vrugt & Oort, 2008; Chen et al., 2017; Scharf et al., 2017).
Metacognition encompasses the ability to self-monitor, self-regulate, and self-control. What exactly do we mean by these overlapping terms?
Self-monitoring refers to our awareness of learning as the learning occurs. For example, you may ask students to assess their comprehension of material, reflect on the learning strategies they’re using, and consider how they’re performing on tasks. Self-regulation and self-control are related processes that stem from self-monitoring. They consist of taking “desires, beliefs, thoughts, and goals” and transforming them into action (Sodian & Frith, 2008). In other words, we check in on our learning and adjust our approach based on what is or is not working. For example, students might realize they need to reread a passage, approach a problem from a different angle, try a new study strategy, or seek help from you or from their peers.
If you diligently post study tools or host optional review sessions, you know students don’t always take advantage of available resources. But this cannot be chalked up to simple disinterest. If students feel overwhelmed or time-strapped, they may be hesitant to try unfamiliar approaches to learning and study.
Self-monitoring, self-regulation, and self-control are skills that must be explicitly taught. A 2017 study found that students who strategized about which resources they would use to study made more effective use of those resources (Chen et al., 2017). The researchers created an intervention tool that prompted students to consider how they could effectively use the resources available to them. The students who engaged with this tool scored one-third of a letter grade higher than students who did not.