Some years ago, when I was teaching at a different CUNY school, a colleague and I were having students work on multimedia projects (in two different kinds of classes).  We thought we noticed that these projects deepened student learning in interesting ways, and we collaborated on a project to investigate how this was working and why.  (If you’re interested, you can see some of the progress of that investigation on the website we created, “Looking at Learning: Looking Together“).

There’s really just one part of that project that I want to emphasize for this unit, though.  In our investigation, my colleague and I found that we both shared a strong belief, really an assumption, that when students became aware of their own learning, it made that learning stronger and more permanent.  We both believed that it was a good thing to push students to reflect on what they learned in class or through a specific project.  We liked to have them look at their work, while they were doing it, and after they were finished, and write about what they were learning or what they had learned from that work.  We wanted them to look in the mirror by looking at their work, and see how that looking changed them.  In fact, we felt this so strongly that we even used the same principle in our own work, our own teaching.  We not only taught, but we talked and wrote about our teaching, and we believed, and we found, that that reflecting made our teaching better.  It deepened our understanding of what we were doing and it led us to make more conscious choices about how we were teaching.

This kind of reflecting is called “meta-learning.”  It’s learning (or thinking) about learning.  And “going meta” is an important part of what many teachers are beginning to value.  This is critical thinking, in some ways–but for students it’s sometimes not required or requested, even though they may do it anyway.  In this course, certainly, we’re doing plenty of it.  It’s sort of the theme of the course, learning about learning.  But how often do you do this in your other classes? How often do you take a moment (or more) to reflect, to think about what and how you’ve learned (or whether you’ve learned).  And do you share that reflection? Maybe with friends informally?

In most classes you’re probably asked to fill out an evaluation at the end of the course–and research shows that for most students if you ask them to fill out the evaluation after the first five minutes, or after the whole semester, the results are really pretty much the same.  Most students take that evaluation as a chance to say whether or not they liked the professor and the course, and many times that decision is already made very early in the class (a sobering thought for us professors on the first day of class!).

There’s nothing really wrong with that, in my view.  But I do wonder what we could get from a deeper evaluation, a more reflective evaluation, which students do by themselves, for themselves, and about themselves.  That might or might not be an effective tool for assessing the course or the professor.  But it might be a stellar tool for helping the student to direct and understand and deepen her own learning.  Possibly?