Joining students in metacognitive reflection

The issue of open access is quite possibly my biggest takeaway of this course..Information is something that shouldn’t be limited. Making knowledge accessible to all is so important and interesting from an ethical perspective.
     – Abby Ballou (Stonehill ’19), Metacognitive Essay 3, Spring 2018

I feel incredibly proud of the work I that I was able to publish in this course…..Here, I was motivated to pay attention to details and look forward to the day I would share our work with the world. The course transformed work from a personal struggle to an opportunity to participate in a grand project with many other people.
     – Robert Coleman (Stonehill ’20), Metacognitive Essay 3, Spring 2018

Once we went public and finally published the code, it almost felt surreal…When I came to this tiny school, I never thought I would have this much of an impact on the scholarly world, especially being a business major. But that just speaks to the well-rounded education Stonehill provides on its mission to develop you as a person, not just a student…I will be open to more opportunities like this in the future.
– anonymous student, Metacognitive Essay 3, Spring 2018

Everyone involved with The Kit Marlowe Project in our Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 “A Rogues Progress” classes was thrilled that we had the honor of launching our site as one of eight competitively chosen digital exhibitions at the Shakespeare Association of America Annual Meeting in Los Angeles in March 2018. There, I enjoyed talking with colleagues about the project’s inception and development. The short story is that in Fall 2017, we’d intended to post students’ research and encoding projects on a class website. Once posted, I had thought that I would edit them and republish the encoding projects elsewhere. But in the course of conducting an online Scavenger Hunt to learn about Marlowe, we realized that there were many resources that offer piecemeal information about Marlowe’s works, life, and/or times. But we found no comprehensive “go to” place for information that is both accessible and reliable. We decided to fill that gap.

At the end of the Fall 2017 semester, students had generated much content for our site. But as I discussed briefly in the Ideas in Motion and Carrying Over Collaboration posts, the content needed to be fact-checked, proofread, and heavily revised. On reflection, our method of force-multiplying collaboration and using student contributions as introductory course content and as a starting point for studying rigorous research practices and revising prose worked. Yet, it was not always painless. In Spring 2018, I assigned metacognitive essays following each unit that asked students to assess their performance in the context of the unit’s learning objectives. The first two units of the Spring 2018 syllabus helped students build skills progressively – some skills might not have been as exciting as others. Many struggled to cite sources correctly using MLA guidelines and time constraints prohibited a thorough proofing of our Bibliography. Plus, almost every student was frustrated at some point when tasked with finding information about individuals with ancient Latin and Greek names for our personography database. Students used words like “anxiety” (am I doing this right?) and “tedious” (proofreading and transcribing can be boring). But anxiety was ultimately transformed into a respect for rigor; temporary tedium was recognized as a necessary evil when they saw their work published on our website and on TAPAS.

Although students had been working collaboratively in the same groups since the second week of class, their ability to communicate with their group members was tested during the “Works” assignment. Students were tasked with finding reputable, open-source editions of one of Marlowe’s plays. The goal was to create a page featuring multiple editions in multiple online formats. Although some groups worked together seamlessly, self-selecting tasks and communicating effectively to make sure they were achieving their goals, others did not fare so well. Some groups found themselves repeating tasks because they did not come together to make a plan of attack, or assign roles and responsibilities. In an effort to troubleshoot, we started each class off with a brief team meeting to make sure students checked in with each another. One student reflected: “Our professor harped on the importance of working together throughout this unit…Again, team work in this unit was harped upon and rightfully so. If you didn’t know what you’re doing, someone else would and they’d be willing to help.” Although I may have “harped” on team work, I think I could do a better job teaching them how to work together more efficiently. Next Fall, I’d like to help students establish communication protocols, plus divvy up roles and responsibilities equitably at the start of each unit. Learning how to collaborate effectively is not only essential for success in our course, but also  beyond graduation.

This Spring, the real payoff came when students published the 1664 and 1696 editions of The History of Doctor Faustus on the TAPAS website (N.b. these works will be proofed and edited in Fall 2018), an endeavor that my brilliant co-instructor Scott Hamlin makes look easy.

I am incredibly proud, impressed, and surprised by the work I created and published in this course. When all of the transcribing, encoding and time-consuming work was complete, and the final piece was uploaded onto TAPAS it was such an alleviating and gratifying experience… It’s hard to describe what it feels like to see the final text with all of the various textual features as if nothing went into making them happen, and then think about all of the work that went into bringing the text to life.
–  Justin Boure (Stonehill ’20), Metacognitive Essay 3, Spring 2018

As Justin commented, it’s been amazing to see our complex encoding projects appear so effortless and beautiful on a website when one knows how very much work went into getting them there. Not only were they delighted to see their labors come to fruition in the public sphere, but they recognized their places in a larger scholarly community. The epigraphs above are representative of students metacognitive reflection essays this semester. 25 students used the word “proud” 41 times in the third essay alone! I’m proud also, in large part because I have long thought that the importance of students’ affective engagement in their work cannot be over-estimated.

Recent pedagogical theories, especially those surrounding the teaching of digital literacies, also emphasize affective learning, especially insofar as it intersects with cognitive, behavioral, and metacognitive learning. Trudi E. Jacobson and Thomas P. Mackey recently have developed a framework build on synthesizing these learning components that they call “Metaliteracies.” I’ve taught graduate classes about theories of human development for over ten years. Most theories divide along the lines of cognition, behavior, and affect, or perhaps combine two or three domains (e.g., Erik Erikson offers a biopsychosocial model of development). Metacognititon is rarely a consideration outside of critical and creative thinking departments, of which few have survived in the 21st Century.

But DH projects like ours lend themselves well to helping students achieve Metaliteracies that include cognitive, behavioral, affective, and metacognitive competencies. Students in our classes at Stonehill usually have little to no experience with the course content, or the skills we practice throughout the semester. Every student-generated web exhibit, encyclopedia entry, citation, and encoding project has a story to tell about students learning collaboratively as they cross-checked research and citations, conducted original research, synthesized information, and made choices together about how best to present their work.

Most of our assignments are also lessons in teamwork, failure, and resilience. Students are encouraged to run with their ideas, and then assess whether they were good/practical/do-able or not. That may sound easy for some, but many were anxious and afraid that their ideas might not work. And sometimes their ideas didn’t work, so they started over. Our students were supported in each endeavor by their teammates, as well as the instructors, teaching assistants, and student volunteers from earlier iterations of the course. I am continually surprised by how many students reflect in their early metacognitive essays that one of their primary takeaways has been learning how to ask for help.

Students also generated great ideas at the end of the semester when asked what they would like to do if they were taking the course again. Many ideas are do-able: make timelines of Marlowe’s life, add performance and audio components to the Works, and work more with other sites like Map of Early Modern London and Pelagios Commons. They also want to share the website with faculty and peers on campus and invite peers to join us in class. I remain fascinated by the suggestion that we document our classwork on film, as the student said: “like The Office.

I’d like to think that our students’ wish list synthesizes “whole Hamlets” of metaliterate outcomes and reminds me how important it is to retain a strong sense of adventure as we sail off into the next semester.

Moving forward, we must edit our editions of Faustus, plus the personography database. We also need to design a new game – perhaps more than one – that will be historically accurate and informative. We should also like to encourage collaborations with institutions beyond Stonehill College. So, please feel free to contact us with any queries!

Kristen Abbott Bennett, 30 May 2018

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Post-Launch Reflections: May 2018