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Does a public audience help the development of metacognitve skills?

I was reading this thesis today: "Students' learning experiences with the Web 2.0 tool MyPortfolio: a case study of one high school classroom" by Rochelle Alison Duke. You can find it on the research archive site of Victoria University.

Page 176

[...] the students in this study did not naturally engage in reflective thinking through the use of MyPortfolio and while a requirement for reflection was built into the tasks that the students completed, the students showed little evidence of actually engaging in reflective thinking and the ‘reflection’ that they did complete was largely shallow and demonstrated very little thought or strategy (McLeod & Vasinda, 2009). While the blogging and view functions of MyPortfolio provided tools that may allow students to develop metacognitive skills, the students in this study did not make any use of these tools for metacognitive purposes unless it was required by the class work. In fact, as discussed in Chapters 6 and 7, even when students did make use of the tools, they engaged in very shallow reflection and there was little sense that the students were making use of MyPortfolio in order to improve their metacognitive thinking. While it is impossible to measure developments in student metacognition over such a short time frame, it is clear that just because tools to support the development of metacognition are available to students, does not mean that they will naturally make use of them.


In that thesis, much evidence is given that students, overall, have a positive perception of the tool and that it helps them manage their learning and time better. A good system for learners to manage their digital assets is surely a big help. There is no doubt that a system like MyPortfolio is a plus for learners. 


The part that left me wondering is this: "While the blogging and view functions of MyPortfolio provided tools that may allow students to develop metacognitive skill". Is it? More specifically, is it that blogging within a closed system, where the content is written for a small audience (the teacher foremost and then the classmates) is likely to encourage the development of reflective practices? For instance, on page 90, Rochelle writes that "Although the students saw MyPortfolio as having similarities to social networking sites, it was interesting to observe that they did not make their messaging public in the way that they do within social networking sites (Lenhart & Madden, 2007) and, almost exclusively, the communication that students undertook within MyPortfolio was conducted through the messaging function rather than by leaving messages in public areas of students’ profiles or views. One significant reason for this may have been that they were aware of the fact that their teacher was able to see these comments and, in this way, the students may have moderated their use of MyPortfolio according to the perceived audience (boyd, 2007)."

What is the experience of teachers using tools that let kids publish in more public spaces, like wikispaces? Does the presence of an authentic audience impact in any way on the development of meta-cognitive skills?

What do you think?


  • Karen Spencer

    A fascinating topic, Marielle. There has been a significant amount of research into how to foster students' metacognitive skills. Processes, such as gathering resources for one's e-portfolio, may provide a context for reflection and metacognitive responses but probably won't, in and of itself, foster reflective skills. 

    The NZ Curriculum has metacognition embedded in the Key Competency of 'Thinking' - it is a capability that is deliberately fostered by specific pedagogical approaches, task design, learning conversations. From an essay I write a wee while ago..

    "The weight of current research suggests that deliberate teaching, modelling and scaffolding of metacognitive strategies is far more effective [than students' learning it by osmosis]; as Biddulph and Osborne (1984) noted, "systematic instruction and approaches" are necessary as students need to "learn how to learn". Black and Wiliam (2001, p. 7) concur, in that "learners need to be trained in self-assessment so they understand the main purposes of their learning and...can grasp what they need to do to achieve."

    It is, of course, easer said than doneSmile

  • Marielle Lange

    Agreed, scaffolding is often essential. Even for use adults, the process of engaging in public reflexions can be a bit overwhelming at first. This often requires continuous practice, over a significant period of time.

    Motivation help sustain the effort. To quote your essay "this same learner must be genuinely and meaningfully engaged in their own education". If Mr Kemp's experience is anything to go by, an audience can really help with that. 

    His class wiki, "we are room 1" was recently featured in the wikispaces blog. An inspiring interview. In the middle of it, he provided the following insight on the role of a global audience:. "I have used wikis for 3 years now and introduced them to my school — all classrooms now use them. The big “Aha” moment for me only came about a month ago when I realised that the children had reached a much wider audience than just mum and dad at home. I noticed that the wiki had become global and only through adding widgets did we discover just how popular it is. We have hooked up with schools all over the world via Skype and shared our learning with schools in every continent. It is SO exciting to see the children light up when they see a comment from someone in another school or country."

    As you pointed out, Karen, a number of factor are involved. It is not an easy task to try and evaluate whether a global audience is merely useful or always critical for the development of metacognitive skills. I wonder. I is possible to think of examples where more authentic tasks can get in the way and encourage more shallow reflection than a carefully controlled but somewhat artificial scenario?

  • Nick Rate

    Another case to consider here is the findings from the Manaiakalani research, which explained further below, aims to improve literacy achievement with a huge focus on global audiences and the use of students blogs:

    The Manaiakalani Project aimed to measurably raise the student achievement outcomes in Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing and to raise student engagement. The key objective was to empower the students with an evidence based belief that their personal voice is valuable, powerful and can be heard around the planet from their decile 1 community.

    The aim of this research was to determine the extent of impact the professional development had on teaching and learning and to provide ideas and considerations for future development and research in this field. As many students in the area are Maori or Pasifika the results of the research will provide data for these groups.

    The research focused on student achievement in Literacy, including reading, writing, speaking and presenting and also on student engagement. The project focused on the use of technology to publish and present student literacy, mainly through blogs.

    What worked (a relevant sample only):

    • The ‘hook’ of having an authentic audience motivated students to write and to ensure they had clarity and correctness in their work.
    • Students were aware that their presentations, written, visual or oral needed to be of excellent quality for the global audience to understand and appreciate and the standard of presentation improved greatly each year.
    • Students were clearly taking more ownership of their posts and beginning to direct and manage their own learning.
    • Reflecting, critiquing and commenting on blogs supported students to peer and self assess independently.
    Will certainly be watching this project develop as it moves into a 1 to 1 community wireless project which is being closely monitored and researched. More on that here: /pg/resources/dorothyjburt/read/55600/summary-of-reflections-may-2011