Tuesday, May 5, 2015

How to Measure Metacognition?

Meta-cognition, or learning how to learn, is a vital element of independent learning in an era of rapid and relentless change.
Meta-cognition is the higher-order thinking that enables understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes, especially when engaged in learning. (Dictionary.com)

Why do you want to measure meta-cognition? What will it tell you? What are the actual outcomes of meta-cognition that you are looking for, or how can it be demonstrated?

Metacognition assessment is all about measuring learning effect (acquisition, skills, behavior, understanding). We can measure the results - the 'things' that have been learned. Meta-cognitive processes can be demonstrated in behavior, and when you measure the behavior, you begin to see if metacognitive thinking is taking place over time and with more proclivity, meta cognition would be where the individual is aware of reaching the point of "not knowing," and then developing strategies to resolve it to "knowing," like how to induce or abduct hypotheses and reflect on them and question them.

Meta-cognition, or learning how to learn, is a vital element of independent learning in an era of rapid and relentless change. In the past, many learners, in all disciplines, built a kind of 'dependency' on their teachers/trainers and developed a form of “learned helplessness.” By supporting learners to learn how to learn - critically examine their thinking and reflect thoroughly on what behaviors helped them learn - they will become better problem solvers, continuous lifelong learners and adapt more readily to whatever changes life/work throws at them. Attempting to 'measure' this type of thinking about thinking can be worthwhile for both teachers and learners.

By definition, meta-cognition requires conscious awareness of one's cognition. Somehow most of professionals today are all still prey to the paradigm of the reductionist scientific outlook that the only things matter are things that can be measured. But keep in mind the quote "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. "There are a number of issues inherent in measuring metacognition:
-What do you mean by metacognition? It is apparent there is not universal agreement as to what is metacognition.
-Second, what are the indicators - not just what you can measure, but what clues do you look for that suggest metacognition is at work or in use.
-Third, what can you collect as measures that don't interfere with the activity of interest? Too often, in seeking good data, the measurement becomes so obtrusive that it obscures the actual process of interest. Metacognition involves a host of factors including knowledge of task, intrapersonal, and environmental characteristics, conditional knowledge, procedural knowledge, declarative knowledge, illusions of knowing, attention, etc. Several of those aspects have intricate sub-components, too. So there is no singular measurement of metacognition. The best you can do is to determine the metacognitive component or feature you want to measure, and find or develop effective tools to measure that feature.

The most tangible measurement could be by taking a neuropsychological perspective: metacognition as particularly located in of the frontal lobe - the “executive function.” We do not have access to the thoughts of a different mind in anything other than the most simplistic way. What we can do, is to measure the demonstrated evidence of learning. We can only measure those things that can be demonstrated in behavior, and when we measure the behavior, we must remain alert to the fact that we are measuring the behavior, and not the internal processes that gave rise to that behavior. Certainly meta cognition has a neurophysiological correlation, it can have a cognitive connection, specially with language. So in this case, it's not only the frontal lobe involved, but all the brain, depending of the task; you are not only thinking what to do, you are executing movements, words, sometimes, it's necessary even a mindfulness moment. It's more than only do projections which include learning, memory, solving problems, creativity, language, movements. it's a complex cognitive task.

Meta cognition can be assessed just by conversation. By asking questions and listening, we can understand how the individual is thinking. By continually asking how a person arrived at a particular statement, concept or idea, we can deduce how a person is understanding the world. When we talk about meta-cognition, we're looking at process rather than outcomes. With this in mind, you’d want to observe learners in context while they are learning and try to gather evidence of their thought processes, possibly easier said than done. It should be also cautious about trying to define metacognition before observing learners in the process of learning. That is to say, describe the process is as much detail as possible and try to discern what constitutes metacognitive thinking, or at least detect when and how much it occurs through intuition/ reasoning (complex systems) rather than hypothesizing a definition and trying to test it (complicated systems). How does one measure reflection? This cognitive process is very intimate, personal, unique and mirrors the beautiful essential core of what it means to be human. But it is extremely helpful to provide a dynamic lens with which to perceive metacognition as an "epiphenomenon." It may be possible to measure indirectly through evidence of reflection. We could, for example, examine notes, diagrams, concept maps, transcripts of conversations or discussions.

A big part of metacognition and more importantly, why metacognition is important, is to give the learner an opportunity to be aware of and understand their own strengths and weaknesses, so that they can learn or adapt their skills and strategies. There is the awareness of the existence of mental states, at a higher level, the ability to distinguish single element, and at a much higher level, the ability to think about processes in an integrated way. With this interpretation, there is a dimensional quantity which can be described in terms of low, medium and high levels. Examining the learning process enables you to develop more effective learning and teaching approaches. If you know more about how people learn, you can work toward developing strategies that stimulate and support it as effectively as possible.


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