Friday we discussed the first abstract metacognitive assignment, in which students were asked to catalog the material from Topic 2, using the framework described here. I’ve slightly modified the framework for this year, putting theories before institutional findings, since I wanted to list theories more prominently to correspond with their place in the “economic way of thinking,” and also because findings tend to be derived from theories: study of the theory of demand led to the law of demand.
For this discussion, the students seemed engaged, though also a bit anxious to find out if they had done the assignment correctly. I don’t remember them being quite so positive when I did this last year. Of course, I’ve learned a few things in the interim.
I told them there was more than one way to complete this assignment well, since its purpose was to outline the material in a way that would enhance their individual learning. Since we have a variety of learning styles and strengths, different students might do the assignment differently, but still “correctly” in the sense that it would achieve the goal of the assignment.
I made a specific point of not organizing the session as a presentation of how I would have completed the assignment; rather, recalling the inquiry approach, I worked to construct a consensus response, with the long term goal of helping students develop confidence in their abilities to do this well. When there were differences of opinion among the students–Should scarcity be categorized as a concept or a finding?–we discussed under what context they could each be considered a good answer: the notion of scarcity is a concept, but the conclusion that scarcity is a general condition is a finding. I think the discussion was helpful in generating a deeper understanding of the material.
I emphasized that this isn’t really an exercise in finding right or wrong answers, but rather a way to understand the material. I observed that putting a major item in the “wrong” category was less problematic than failing to include the item at all.
I ended the session by stating that in the future I would only allow those who completed the assignment to sit in on the discussion, pointing out the perverse incentives that allowing free riders would create. No one seemed to object (though they didn’t need to today.)