Reflections on Learning: Supporting metacognition and communication skills in a Computer Programming course

Stephen Forbes

The Computer Programmer Analyst program team at DC is piloting a new approach of teaching and assessment of learning at DC. The idea came out of a discussion among several faculty team members – Thom MacDonald, Kyle Chapman, Samson Chung, and Jen Short – as they started brainstorming during a team meeting.

The team identified several issues in their Introduction to Programming course with their students including a misalignment of test/quiz results with learner knowledge due to testing anxiety, challenges with academic integrity, and low motivation to revisit difficult topics identified through lower than expected quiz grades. After a couple of iterations, they decided to shift the assessment grades from quizzes to reflections on learning.

This new approach facilitates individualized learning for students as well as authentic comprehension checks for faculty. Students are still required to take quizzes but are given an unlimited number of attempts so that they can master the material.

After taking the quiz, students are required to reflect on their learning with a separate DC Connect quiz (available using release conditions), responding to questions such as:

Which question(s) on the quiz did you have the most trouble with? How could you learn more about this?

What skills related to planning software development do you think you need to practice?

Providing students with unlimited access to quizzes to engage in retrieval practice has been demonstrated to result in durable learning and reflection on that learning results in the development of metacognition (e.g., Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel, 2014). Because students provide written reflections, they are also developing their written communication skills, which directly addresses the Program Advisory Committee comments that graduates are required to communicate effectively about their work in industry.

Additional benefits include the flexibility for students to complete quizzes when it is convenient for their schedules, as well as reduce test anxiety and sanctions connected to breaches of academic integrity. There is also a positive impact on faculty- student relationships because this approach provides another form of individual check-ins.

For further information about any aspect of this pilot approach, feel free to reach out to Stephen Forbes and/or Kyle Chapman.

Reference: Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning.