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Metacognition: are graduate students different from freshmen?

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2019 ASEE PNW Section Conference


Corvallis, Oregon

Publication Date

March 20, 2019

Start Date

March 20, 2019

End Date

March 22, 2019



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Paper Authors


Branimir Pejcinovic Portland State University

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Branimir Pejcinovic received his Ph.D. degree from University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is a Professor and former Associate Chair for Undergraduate Education at Portland State University, Electrical and Computer Engineering department. In this role he has led department-wide changes in curriculum with emphasis on project- and lab-based instruction and learning. His research interests are in the areas of engineering education, semiconductor device characterization, design and simulation, signal integrity and THz sensors. He is a member of IEEE and ASEE.

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Donald D Duncan Portland State University


Melinda Holtzman Portland State University

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Melinda Holtzman received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Nevada, Reno. She is a Senior Instructor in the ECE department at PSU.

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This report will be presentation only. Metacognition among engineering students is recently receiving attention that it deserves. Metacognition, i.e., the ability to understand the state of one’s knowledge and thought processes, is an important component of learning and one that distinguishes experts from novices:

“To become self-directed learners, students must learn to assess the demands of the task, evaluate their own knowledge and skills, plan their approach, monitor their progress, and adjust their strategies as needed … these metacognitve skills … are often neglected in instruction. However, helping students to improve their metacognitive skills can hold enormous benefits.” [1]

Metacognition and critical thinking are intricately related. Even though they can be difficult to disentangle, some recent research demonstrates that improvements in metacognitive skills result in improved critical thinking. In an ongoing NSF project, aimed at designing tools to teach and improve undergraduate students’ metacognitive skills [2], the authors argue that “metacognition is particularly important in the training and development of engineers as problem solvers.” This work has focused on freshman or lower-division engineering students. However, the development of metacognitive skills across years of study in engineering has not been addressed. In our own teaching of senior or graduate ECE courses we have observed that senior and graduate students frequently have poor metacognitive skills. By assessing their written research reports we can determine they do not understand the state of their own knowledge and how to improve it. Consequently, they are also not able to assess the state of the knowledge in their discipline. These shortcomings affect students’ ability to become life-long learners and to deepen their knowledge on their own. Evaluation of one’s own discipline is especially critical for research-oriented students who are expected to critically examine existing knowledge, find gaps in it, and come up with ways of filling them. Therefore, we believe that more attention should also be paid to metacognitive skills of graduate students.

We have just completed collection of survey data from five courses spanning freshman to graduate years. We used a survey from [3] which is a validated instrument and 235 students took it. Our goal is to understand if there are any significant differences between different levels of students, and if so, what they are. Our working hypothesis is that we will not see any significant differences between different student populations. We are in the middle of analyzing the data and will report results and our analysis at the meeting. We hope that these results will form the basis for improvements in both undergraduate and graduate education.

[1] S. A. Ambrose, et al., How learning works, 1st ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010. [2] P. Cunningham, et al., “Beginning to Understand and Promote Engineering Students’ Metacognitive Development,” in ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, 2016. [3] H. Matusovich, private communication.

Pejcinovic, B., & Duncan, D. D., & Holtzman, M. (2019, March), Metacognition: are graduate students different from freshmen? Paper presented at 2019 ASEE PNW Section Conference, Corvallis, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--31886

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