Project Options

1. Undergraduate metacognition: Using a motivational lens to identify barriers to changing learning behavior

Co-mentors: Julie Stanton (Cellular Biology) and Emily Rosenzweig (Educational Psychology)

Even when undergraduate science students have developed metacognitive skills, they do not always use their metacognition to take the actions needed for learning. For example, some students are aware of concepts they don’t understand and the best learning strategies for obtaining the understanding they lack, yet they avoid acting on this knowledge due to discomfort. In addition, students may choose not to use effective study strategies because of concerns about how they will be perceived, or concerns about whether a particular study strategy is worth the time and effort. This project will leverage in-the-moment and interview data to examine students’ metacognitive development and use of metacognitive strategies, with a focus on how motivational beliefs influence these processes. Using a motivational lens, this project will involve two parts: (1) analysis of an ongoing longitudinal study of metacognitive development using a motivational lens, and (2) development of a new metacognition study focused on how students weigh the costs and values of using learning approaches that are helpful but require more time and effort.

Mentorship: Fellow will receive interdisciplinary mentorship and training on metacognition in life sciences students (Dr. Stanton’s expertise), and motivational theory and research methods from educational psychology (Dr. Rosenzweig’s expertise).

2. How does instructor thinking about racial equity influence instructional practices and student motivation to persist in STEM?

Mentors: Tati Russo-Tait (Cellular Biology), Michael Barger (Educational Psychology), Tessa Andrews (Genetics)

Project Description: Instructional practices contribute to the learning environment for students, which may foster or undermine a student’s motivation to persist in STEM. Student motivation is impacted by the culture of the classroom and this culture is largely cultivated by the instructor. Instructors make decisions about curriculum, instruction, norms, expectations, rules, and habits of the classroom based, at least in part, on their conceptions of equity and the responsibility they take for advancing equity in biology. This project will investigate how instructors think about racial equity, how they translate these ideas into instructional practices that can exclude or include students of color, and how students perceive the impact of those instructional practices on their personal motivation to persist in STEM (Figure 1). The connections between instructor beliefs and practices and students’ experiences have rarely been investigated, nor has the varied motivational experiences of students in the same classroom over the course of a semester. Thus, this project will rely heavily on exploratory, contextualized, qualitative investigation, with supporting quantitative measures as needed. The project will draw on critical frameworks such as color-evasion, anti-Blackness, and critical racial consciousness to analyze how instructor thinking about racial equity inform practices that affect course culture and student experience. We will also use an integrative motivational framework to analyze student identity-based motivation, incorporating students’ sense of belonging, competence, and values. Experience conducting research that uses critical frameworks to examine race and racism in education (e.g., color-evasive ideology, racial noticing, critical race theory, LatCrit, BlackCrit) is preferred for this project.

Figure 1. Conceptual framework of the project. Instructor beliefs about racial equity influence instructional practices (e.g., policies, curriculum, pedagogy, class climate). Students perceive instructional practices, which influences their motivation to persist in STEM (e.g., competence, belonging, value, identity).  

Mentorship: Fellow will receive interdisciplinary mentorship and training on theories, research literature, and research methods in the areas of faculty thinking and practices related to racial equity and justice (expertise of Drs. Russo-Tait and Andrews) and student motivation in STEM (Dr. Barger’s expertise).

3. Learning Activities for Fostering Cognitive Engagement in Biochemistry

Co-mentors: Logan Fiorella (Educational Psychology) and Paula Lemons (Biochemistry & Molecular Biology) 

This project will explore ways of fostering cognitive engagement and learning in undergraduate biochemistry courses. According to Chi and Wylie’s (2014) Interactive-Constructive-Active-Passive (ICAP) framework, cognitive engagement depends on the quality of students’ overt behaviors during learning, such as passively listening to a lecture, taking summary notes, engaging in self-explanation, or working collaboratively with a peer. Higher levels of cognitive engagement should lead to deeper learning (I > C > A > P), including the ability to apply one’s knowledge to new situations. However, very few studies have systematically tested whether and under what conditions learning activities targeting each level of engagement differentially affect learning outcomes. Furthermore, little is known about how to help instructors design, implement, and adapt activities that effectively detect and foster higher modes of engagement, including inference generation (constructive) and co-construction of knowledge (interactive). This project will test the strengths and limitations of applying the ICAP framework to teaching challenging concepts in biochemistry, providing insight into the cognitive mechanisms underlying learning and yielding practical guidelines for designing effective learning activities.

Mentorship: Fellow will receive interdisciplinary mentorship and training on discipline-specific instructional and assessment issues in biochemistry (Dr. Lemons’ expertise), as well as instructional design theories and experimental research methods from educational psychology (Dr. Fiorella’s expertise).